(CNSNews.com) – For the first time, a U.S. fighter plane on Sunday shot down a Syrian aircraft, after the Assad regime’s Su-22 dropped bombs near U.S.-backed rebels near the ISIS stronghold of Raqqa. The Syrian army said the pilot was missing.
In what the U.S. military said was an act of “collective self-defense of coalition-partnered forces,” a U.S. F/A-18E Super Hornet fighter jet “immediately” shot down the Syrian aircraft after it dropped bombs near Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) positions south of Tabqah, which lies south-west of Raqqa.
“The coalition’s mission is to defeat ISIS in Syria and Iraq,” the coalition known as Operation Inherent Resolve (OIF) said in a statement. “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 coalition presence in Syria addresses the imminent threat ISIS in Syria poses globally,” OIF said. “The demonstrated hostile intent and actions of pro-regime forces towards coalition and partner force in Syria conducting legitimate counter-ISIS operations will not be tolerated.”
It called on all parties to focus their energies on attacking the jihadist group, “which is our common enemy and the greatest threat to regional and worldwide peace and security.”
According to the Russian news agency TASS, the Russian defense ministry announced on Monday that it will close down its deconfliction channel with the U.S., which was intended to prevent the U.S. and Russian militaries from accidentally targeting each other in Syria.
The Russian defense ministry also announced: "Any aircraft, including planes and drones of the international coalition, detected in the operation areas west of the Euphrates River by the Russian air forces will be followed by Russian ground-based air defense and air defense aircraft as air targets."
Russia said U.S. shootdown of a Syrian Air Force jet in Syrian airspace "is a cynical violation of Syria's sovereignty" and international law.
About two hours before the shootdown, the Pentagon said pro-regime forces had attacked an SDF-held town called Ja’Din, “wounding a number of SDF fighters and driving the SDF from the town.”
Coalition aircraft had made a show of force, stopping the advance of the pro-regime forces towards the town. The Pentagon said it had also made contact with Russian counterparts through a “de-confliction” channel in order to stop the attack and de-escalate the situation.
The Assad regime disputed the Pentagon’s version of Sunday’s events, claiming that the aircraft which was shot down had been engaged in actions against ISIS, not against U.S.-backed rebel forces. It characterized the incident as further proof of its contention that the coalition is actually backing ISIS, not trying to defeat it.
The Syrian Army general command said the coalition had shot down “one of the army’s warplanes in al-Rasafah region in Raqqa southern countryside while it was carrying out a combatant mission against ISIS terrorist organization, causing it to down and missing its pilot.”
It said the incident “undoubtedly affirms the U.S. real stance in support of terrorism which aims to affect the capability of the Syrian Arab army – the only active force – along with its allies that practice its legitimate right in combating terrorism all over Syria.”
“The attack stresses coordination between the U.S. and ISIS, and it reveals the evil intentions of the U.S. in administrating terrorism and investing it to pass the U.S.-Zionist project in the region,” the army added.
Sunday’s incident is the latest, and most serious yet, in a series of clashes between the U.S.-backed anti-ISIS coalition and the Assad regime and its allies.
On May 18 and again on June 6 and June 8, coalition forces struck pro-regime forces who were deemed to be posing a threat to U.S. and partner forces in an area near the Syria-Jordan-Iraq border where the U.S. is training local forces to fight against ISIS.
Also on June 8, a U.S.aircraft shot down a “pro-regime” Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) that had fired on coalition forces in the same area of southern Syria.
“The pro-regime UAV, similar in size to a U.S. MQ-1 Predator, was shot down by a U.S. aircraft after it dropped one of several weapons it was carrying near a position occupied by coalition personnel who are training and advising partner ground forces in the fight against ISIS,” the OIF said at the time.
Last April, President Trump ordered a cruise missile strike on a Syrian airbase after accusing the regime of carrying out a deadly toxic gas attack in Idlib province. Damascus denied responsibility.
The rebel force reportedly targeted by the Syrian Su-22 on Sunday – the SDF – is a U.S.-backed alliance comprising Kurdish, Arab and Turkmen factions. The Kurdish fighters, members of the YPG armed wing of the Kurdish Democratic Union (PYD), are among some of the most effective fighters in the campaign to defeat ISIS in Syria.
Turkey considers them terrorists because of their affiliation to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an organization that has waged a violent separatist struggle in south-eastern Turkey for more than three decades.
Assad regime forces are backed by Russia and Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, and by Shi’ite militia from Lebanon (Hezbollah), Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.
Earlier in the civil war, Turkey in November 2015 shot down a Russian Su-24 warplane along the Turkey-Syria border in disputed circumstances. One of two pilots was shot dead by Turkish-backed Syrian rebels as he descended by parachute, and a Russian marine was also killed by rebels during a Russian mission to rescue the two.