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US-led airstrikes destroy equipment taken by ISIS

US-led airstrikes destroy equipment taken by ISIS
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Airstrikes carried out by the U.S.-led coalition fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) have destroyed an air defense system and other equipment the terrorist group seized when it retook the ancient city of Palmyra from Russian and Syrian forces last weekend, the coalition said Friday.

“The [coalition] commanding general, Lt. Gen. Stephen J. Townsend, made it clear during his Dec. 14 press conference that we would strike the equipment before it posed a threat to counter-ISIL operations,” coalition spokesman Col. John Dorrian said in a statement, using an alternate acronym for the group. “We will not allow ISIL to maintain capabilities that threaten coalition or partner forces.”

ISIS swept back into Palmyra last Saturday and retook it by Sunday, having lost the city to Russian and Syrian forces nine months ago. The victory was ISIS’s first major win in taking territory after several months of losing towns and cities in Iraq and Syria.

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The United States and Russia traded blame for ISIS’s win, with U.S. officials saying Russia was too focused on carrying out a brutal campaign against anti-regime rebels in Aleppo and Russian officials saying the United States refuses to cooperate in fighting terrorism.

Palmyra’s value in the fight is mostly symbolic, as the UNESCO World Heritage Site is home to 2,000-year-old relics that ISIS has relished destroying. But its central location in Syria gives it some strategic value as well.

The coalition airstrikes, which were carried out Thursday, destroyed 14 tanks, three artillery systems, two ISIS-held buildings, two tactical vehicles and an air defense artillery system, according to the Friday statement. The equipment was taken from the Syrian air force's Tiyas Military Airfield between Sunday and Tuesday, according to the statement.

In all, 16 coalition aircraft fired 22 munitions in airstrikes along a highway northeast of Palmyra, the statement added.

In a Wednesday briefing, Townsend said it was up to Russia to respond to ISIS taking the equipment but that the United States would defend itself if need be.

“I think Russia will probably take action,” he said. “If they don't, we will do what we need to do to defend ourselves.”

“I think maybe, probably, we will strike it if we see it moving away from Palmyra,” he added. “I think if it stays, as long as it stays in Palmyra, the Russians will have lead and the regime will have the lead to deal with that.”

Russia brushed off the claim that ISIS had taken any significant equipment.

On Thursday, Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said an "insignificant number" of firearms and a few broken pieces of military hardware left in Palmyra "pose no threat to the international coalition,” according to The Associated Press