(RFE/RL) — A U.S. jet shot down a Syrian government warplane after it attacked forces fighting against the Islamic State (IS) militant group on the southern edge of Raqqa, the U.S.-led coalition in Syria says.
The Combined Joint Task Force on June 18 said the U.S. jet shot down the Syrian fighter “in accordance with rules of engagement” and “collective self-defense.”
“At 6:43 p.m. (1743 GMT), a Syrian regime SU-22 dropped bombs near SDF fighters south of Tabqah and, in accordance with rules of engagement and in collective self-defense of Coalition partnered forces, was immediately shot down by a US F/A-18E Super Hornet,” the statement said.
SDF fighters make up an Syrian Arab and Kurdish alliance known as the Syrian Democratic Forces, who are being supported by the U.S.-led coalition in the fight against IS extremists and, separately, the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in that country’s six-year civil war.
A Syrian Army statement said the plane crashed, and the pilot was missing in the incident near the village of Rasafah.
The “flagrant attack was an attempt to undermine the efforts of the army as the only effective force capable with its allies…in fighting terrorism across its territory,” the Syrian Army said.
“This comes at a time when the Syrian army and its allies were making clear advances in fighting the [IS] terrorist group,” it added.
Coalition officials said Assad’s forces attacked SDF fighters in the town of Ja’Din south of Tabqah, “wounding a number of SDF fighters and driving the SDF from the town.”
U.S.-led air support then hit the Syrian pro-government forces with a “show of force,”officials said.
Russian news agencies quoted Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as saying on June 19 that the United States should respect Syria’s territorial integrity and refrain from unilateral actions there.
“As for what is happening ‘on the ground’ in Syria, we proceed from the assumption that it is necessary to fully respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity in Syria,” Lavrov was quoted as saying. “Therefore, any actions ‘on the ground’, and there are many participants there, including those who carry out military operations, should be coordinated with Damascus.”
The U.S. military said the coalition had “contacted its Russian counterparts by telephone via an established ‘de-confliction line’ to de-escalate the situation and stop the firing.”
“The Coalition does not seek to fight Syrian regime, Russian, or pro-regime forces partnered with them, but will not hesitate to defend Coalition or partner forces from any threat,” the U.S. military said.
U.S.-led SDF fighters are in the process of encircling the city or Raqqa, the Islamic State group’s final major stronghold in Syria.
The Syrian Army has also taken territory from retreating IS in the area as the multifaceted battle in Syria rages on after six years.
The United States and Turkey support differing rebel groups against IS and pro-government forces, while Russia and Iran back Assad’s government.
IS fighters are also under pressure in their final major stronghold in Iraq. On June 18, Iraqi security forces launched an operation to fully liberate Mosul, the country’s second-largest city.
U.S. officials said coalition forces had breached the Old City, where the final IS extremists are clinging to their last positions, using more than 100,000 civilians as human shields.
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