Pentagon warns Assad: 'Steer clear' of US forces in Syria

Pentagon warns Assad: 'Steer clear' of US forces in Syria
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The Pentagon on Monday warned Syrian regime air forces to stay away from areas in northern Syria where U.S. forces are operating, after a close call last week.  

“We’re going to defend our forces where they are," said Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook at a briefing. "We advise them to steer clear of where we’re operating."

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The message was also relayed to Syria through regime-allied Russia, Cook said. 

Last week, the U.S. scrambled two F-22s after Syrian air forces dropped bombs in Hasaka, where U.S. special operations forces are operating with Kurdish YPG fighters against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).  

It was the first time Syrian jets have bombed an area where American troops are present, despite the United States' past warnings.

The U.S. has studiously aimed to avoid military conflict with Russia and the Syrian government as it backs some Syrian rebel groups, and the Pentagon has emphasized its only focus is ISIS.

But the lines between the U.S. fight against ISIS and the years-long Syrian civil war could become blurred, as the U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters begin an offensive against Syrian regime forces in Hasaka. 

Cook said the U.S. would take action against the Syrian regime if U.S. forces and their partners on the ground are threatened. 

"We're going to continue to provide support and provide defensive support in particular to forces on the ground engaged in the ISIL fight, and particularly those forces that are partnered up with the coalition forces," he said, using another acronym for ISIS. 

Cook said there is "not a no-fly zone" in place in northern Syria.

"You can label it what you want," he said. "The Syrians should be aware of that based on the message we delivered through the Russians."