The U.S. coalition against Islamic State was forced to scramble jets into Syria Thursday, after Syria almost bombed U.S. special operators advising fighters on the ground.
Approximately 300 U.S. special operators are embedded with Kurdish militias in northern Syria. These militias are predominantly engaged in the fight against ISIS, and there is no military reason for the Syrian regime to engage them. Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis told reporters, “This is very unusual, we have not seen the regime take this kind of action against YPG before.”
The U.S. sent two F-22 fighter aircraft within one mile of the Syrian SU-24s, but did not engage them. “The Syrian regime would be well advised not to interfere with coalition forces or our partners,” Davis continued. The U.S. has measures in place that “de-conflict” aerial operations in Syria with Russia, but has no methods in place with the Syrian military. Davis indicated additional U.S. patrols would be sent to cover the U.S. special operators.
Syrian President Bashar Assad voiced his extreme displeasure with the U.S. presence in Syria, telling NBC News in July that U.S. airstrikes in Syria were “counterproductive.” Assad further asserted that the U.S. was perpetuating terrorism with its presence. Assad, Russia, and Iran have consistently portrayed anyone who opposes the Assad regime as “terrorists,” including Syria’s armed Kurdish minority.
Russian planes bombed a secret U.S. base for American and British special operators inside Syria in late June in a bid to pressure the Obama administration to sign a cooperation deal with Russia. The deal will entail cooperation between Russia and U.S. intelligence agencies and coordinated air strikes on Syrian rebels classified as terrorists — giving Putin and Assad everything they’ve ever wanted from the U.S. in Syria.
Despite an official U.S government line that Assad must go, the U.S. is essentially conceding that Assad will remain in power, and that the U.S. will not play a leadership role in determining Syria’s future.
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