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US aircraft conducted multiple airstrikes against Syrian regime-aligned​ fighters Wednesday. The strikes came from gunships and fighter jets like the F-22 seen above on a mission over Syria supporting OIR on Feb. 2, 2018. ANG photo/SSgt. Colton Elliott.

​US aircraft responded to an “unprovoked attack” on US-backed fighters in Syria on Wednesday with multiple airstrikes from fighter jets and gunships, killing scores of fighters aligned with the country’s regime.  

US advisers embedded with Syrian Democratic Forces about five miles east of the Euphrates River deconfliction line watched for about a week as Syrian forces built up a battalion-sized force complete with artillery, tanks, and mortars near their position, Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White said Thursday. 

The Syrian forces fired up to 30 artillery and tank rounds on the SDF and US adviser position, prompting a response by both US aircraft and artillery on the ground.

The attack was “perplexing,” considering Russia and the Syrian regime were aware of the US presence in a known headquarters beyond the established deconfliction line, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told reporters on Thursday.

“Why they chose to initiate this attack, you’ll have to ask them,” Mattis said. "We don't know."

The barrage ended the battle and US forces did not fire on retreating Syrian fighters, White said. US strikes destroyed the attacking force’s artillery, two tanks, and caused multiple casualties, Mattis said. About 300 remaining fighters retreated across the Euphrates, he said.

Throughout the buildup, during the battle, and after fighting ended, US officials called Russian officials on the established deconfliction line to share US positions. 

Even though the battle raged for hours, White said the deconfliction talks were a “success” because Russian officials understood where US forces were and did not fire on them. 

One Syrian Democratic Forces fighter was injured and there were no US casualties, White said. 

“Our forces have the inherent right to self defense,” she said. “We are not looking for conflict with the regime.”