The Pentagon issued a stern warning to Russia and Syria that it will do whatever is necessary to protect U.S. forces and partners fighting Islamic State, even if that means shooting down Russian and Syrian aircraft.
Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook told reporters Monday the U.S. reserves the right to defend its forces against any threat. That could extend to U.S. partners like the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG).
“We always have the right to defend our forces,” said Cook, when asked whether or not the U.S. would consider shooting down Russian or Syrian aircraft that threaten U.S. forces.
“We, again, would advise them to steer clear in areas where we are operating,” he noted.
When asked if that statement would apply to local partners, the press secretary added: “We’re going to defend those, too.”
Cook did not elaborate on specific units or partners that the promise would apply to, but he did say local partners helping fight ISIS would “enjoy” protection from the U.S.
When asked if the policy constituted the U.S. placing a no-fly zone over its forces and partners, Cook replied by saying “you can label it what you want.” Despite the strong rhetoric, he insisted the warning does not constitute a change in policy regarding Syria.
The Pentagon’s warning comes one day after the new commander of U.S. forces fighting ISIS made similar statements.
“We’ve informed the Russians where we’re at … (they) tell us they’ve informed the Syrians, and I’d just say that we will defend ourselves if we feel threatened,” Army Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend told CNN’s Barbara Starr.
Both Townsend and the Pentagon’s warnings are the result of what defense officials have called an “unusual” incident involving Syrian government aircraft attacking an area close to where U.S. special operations forces were supporting Kurdish partners against ISIS. The danger from the attack required U.S. forces to be hastily moved out of the area.
While perhaps not a change in policy, both Townsend and Cook’s statements are unusual in that they represent the first time the Pentagon has issued such warnings openly to Russia and Syria.
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