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
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.”
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