US forces strike pro-regime militia in Syria

US forces strike pro-regime militia in Syria
© Getty Images

U.S. forces bombed a militia aligned with Syrian president Bashar Assad in southern Syria, a Pentagon official confirmed Thursday.

The strike took place in At Tanf near Syria's border with Jordan and Iraq, the official said. The United States has been using the area to train its partnered local forces.

ADVERTISEMENT
The U.S.-led coalition fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) said the strike happened Thursday when pro-regime forces advanced in a “de-confliction zone” and posed a threat to coalition-backed forces.


“This was despite #Russian attempts to dissuade pro-regime movement towards At Tanf, #Coalition aircraft show of force, & warning shots,” Operation Inherent Resolve said in a tweet.

In a four-sentence statement, the coalition added that the pro-regime forces were “well inside” an “established” zone.

“Coalition forces have been operating in the At Tanf area for many months training and advising vetted partner forces engaged in the fight against ISIS,” the statement said. “The agreed upon de-confliction zone agreement remains in effect.”

The statement does specify which pro-regime militia was struck nor what the damage of the strike was.

An official from a U.S.-backed rebel group told Reuters the bombing happened after his group clashed with the militia.

“We notified the coalition that we were being attacked by the Syrian army and Iranians in this point and the coalition came and destroyed the advancing convoy,” Muzahem al Saloum, from the Maghawir al Thwra group, said, according to Reuters.

Defense Secretary James Mattis insisted the strikes do not represent a change in U.S. policy, but said U.S. troops will defend themselves and partnered forces.

"We're not increasing our role in the Syrian civil war, but we will defend our troops, and that is a coalition element made up of more than just U.S. troops, and so we'll defend ourselves," Mattis told reporters prior to a meeting with the Swedish defense minister.

Still, the strike will likely reignite debate about U.S. involvement in the Syrian civil war that had raged after President Trump ordered a cruise missile strike against a regime airfield last month.

That strike was in response to a sarin gas attack against civilians U.S. officials say was carried out by forces loyal to Assad. It was the first time the U.S. military directly intervened in the Syrian civil war.

At the time, administration officials insisted the airfield strike did not represent a change in U.S. strategy toward Syria, which has largely focused on the fight against ISIS. Still, the strike prompted debate among lawmakers about the U.S. role in the war and whether it was time for Congress to take up a new war authorization.

Though details of Thursday’s strike remain hazy, Trump critics in Congress were already skeptical of the action.

“If true, this is FRICKIN ILLEGAL,” Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) tweeted. “Trump does not have Congressional authorization to attack Syria, a country that has not attacked US.”

- Updated at 5:05 p.m.