WASHINGTON – U.S.-led coalition jets struck a gathering of Syrian government forces deemed a threat to partnered forces on the ground near the Jordanian border, U.S. defense officials confirmed Thursday.
The airstrikes took place Thursday and hit a tank and possibly other targets in southern Syria that appeared to be an advancing Shia militant group that the coalition deemed a threat to its allies on the ground, according to the defense official who spoke on the condition of anonymity. A second defense official said the strike also hit a bulldozer.
"They were building a fighting position" about 55 kilometers from a U.S.-coalition base close to At Tanf, where advisers train members of the Syrian Democratic Forces and Syrian Arab Coalition, the second official said. There were U.S. advisers operating at the base at the time of the airstrikes.
The official said an earlier communication agreement between the United States and Russia in Syria had included ways to avoid mishaps between ground forces, such as establishing a 55-kilometer border around known areas of operation. Either side would then notify the other if their forces would be inside those areas.
"Anyone who goes inside the 55 kilometers or needs to do a strike, we have areas that are set up," the official said. "You let us know through deconfliction channels."
The official said the United States reached out to Russia to notify them that Syrian government forces were within the zone, giving them the opportunity to withdraw. Russia tried multiple times to contact the Syrian forces, the official said.
It was at that point that U.S. and coalition jets escalated their warnings.
"We conducted a show of force. We conducted warning shots. All to no avail," the official said.