The U.S. military executed an air strike against a militia supported by the Bashar al Assad’s regime in Syria on Thursday.  According to defense officials, the targeted militia posed a direct threat to U.S. backed forces in the southern region of the embattled nation.

The air strikes reportedly took place near the town of At Tanf.  According to defense officials, they successfully destroyed at least one tank and bulldozer.

According to reports, aircraft from the U.S. military first fired warning shots near the advancing militia intended to dissuade them from continuing their movement toward the rebels.  When the warning shots failed to stop them, the decision was made to target them with an air strike in order to protect the friendly forces nearby.

Muzahem al Saloum, from the Maghawir al Thawra group, told journalists that the air strike occurred only after U.S. backed rebel forces clashed with Syrian and Iranian militias.  Despite warning shots from U.S. aircraft, they advanced to within 17 miles of the rebel base.

“We notified the coalition that we were being attacked by the Syrian army and Iranians in this point, and the coalition came and destroyed the advancing convoy,” Saloum said.

The Pentagon has yet to make an official statement regarding the air strikes.

Although the targets of these strikes were backed by the Syrian and Iranian governments, the decision to do so likely does not represent a shift in policy regarding Assad’s regime or the intent of U.S. forces within Syria.  Despite Assad’s accused human rights violations, the current U.S. policy regarding Syria does not call for removing him from power or participating in an active military campaign against the formal Syrian government.  The focus of ongoing military action in Syria will likely remain on ISIS, despite this altercation.

“We conducted a show of force. We conducted warning shots. All to no avail,” one official said.

The air strike, and attempts to dissuade the advance of the militias prior to it, paint this action as a purely defensive one, which may limit the political fallout the United States will be forced to weather from Assad, or his close ally, the Russian government.

“The coalition commander assessed the threat and after shows of force didn’t stop the regime forces and those forces refused to move out of the deconfliction zone, the commander on the ground called for the air strike as a matter of force protection,” an unidentified senior U.S. defense official told Fox News.

According to unconfirmed reports that have reached the Associated Press, the regime forces were amidst building a fighting position at the time the air strike occurred.

Russia and the United States, who back opposing forces in the country that have temporarily set aside much of their conflict to focus on the fight with the Islamic State, have established “buffer zones” between militia groups hailing from different sides of the ongoing civil conflict.  Each side is supposed to provide the other with advanced warning when conducting operations within these buffers intended to prevent incidents like the air strike on Thursday from occurring.

Per those as yet unconfirmed reports, the Russian military made repeated attempts to contact the Syrian and Iranian militias moving in on the U.S. backed rebel position to no avail.

This event marks the first U.S. military action taken against Assad’s Syrian forces since President Trump ordered a missile strike on the Syrian air base believed to be responsible for conducting a chemical weapon attack on civilians in rebel controlled territory.  The Russian government has since called the missile strike a “violation of international law.”

The decision to execute this strike appears to have been based entirely on tactical necessity and not as a part of a larger political or ideological shift in U.S. strategy in Syria.

 

Image courtesy of the Associated Press