The U.S. military launched fresh air strikes against pro-Assad troops in Syria after they ignored repeated warnings from both coalition and Russian forces, officials told Fox News Thursday.
The Syrian forces, in several vehicles including at least one tank, were near the Jordanian border and deemed a threat to coalition partners on the ground, a Pentagon official said. They were repeatedly ordered to stop their advance toward a de-escalation zone, but ignored the warning, officials said.
"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," a senior U.S. defense official told Fox News. The US-led coalition strike on a pro-government convoy in Syria is illegitimate and represents yet another violation of Syria’s sovereignty, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said.
“The American command explained the strike on pro-government Syrian forces, saying that these forces represented a threat to opposition which cooperates with the US-led coalition,” Lavrov said on Friday. “Whatever the reason for the US command to make this decision, this strike is illegitimate and unlawful. It’s yet another harsh violation of Syria’s sovereignty.” Apart from violating Syrian sovereignty, such strikes hamper international efforts to reach a political solution of the Syrian crisis, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov stated earlier on Friday. “Any military actions leading to the aggravation of the situation in Syria definitely affect the political process. Especially if such actions are committed against the Syrian armed forces.” Gatilov said. Damascus said on Friday that the Thursday strike hit a Syrian Army position on Al-Tanf road in the Syrian desert “which led to casualties and material damage,” Sana reports. The US-led coalition airstrike on pro-government forces in Syria was called “aggression” and “government terrorism” by Syria’s ambassador to the UN and the government’s chief negotiator at the Geneva talks, Bashar al-Jaafari. He also said the US actions amounted to a “massacre,” which was discussed during the talks with Staffan de Mistura. “We discussed the massacre that the US aggressor committed yesterday in our country,” Jaafari stated, as cited by Reuters. “We want to focus on fighting terrorism represented by armed groups and the state and government terrorism happening against our country. This includes the American aggression, French aggression and British aggression.”
Senior Russian senator Konstantin Kosachev also condemned the strike, questioning whether it was a deliberate attack. “You cannot consider the US-led coalition airstrike against pro-government forces on Thursday an accident or a mistake anymore. This is a deliberate action and its consequences are yet to be estimated,” Kosachev wrote on his Facebook page. “This is not only an attack in Syria and against Syria, but also against Geneva [negotiations]. The US is irritated that the Geneva process is not under its control and, what is worse, it can be successful.” The sixth round of Syrian peace talks in Geneva which started on Tuesday was “short, but productive,” Gatilov said. He also noted that UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura wanted the experts’ meetings to continue beyond the negotiations. Earlier, the US-led coalition admitted striking a militia group fighting alongside Syrian government forces in southern Syria on Thursday.