By Peter Symonds
19 June 2017
In a marked escalation of the war in Syria, a US F-18 fighter jet yesterday shot down a Syrian government fighter bomber for the first time, claiming that it had been attacking pro-US rebel forces on the ground near Raqqa. While nominally fighting Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) forces, the US shoot-down makes clear that the real target of American-led operations is the ousting of the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad.
The US military justified the provocative act by claiming that the Syrian SU-22 had been bombing near so-called Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) troops. It cited fighting that had taken place hours earlier between the Syrian military and SDF forces holding the town of Ja’Din as showing “hostile intent” and declared that attacks on “legitimate counter-ISIS operations will not be tolerated.” The statement absurdly declared that it was not seeking “to fight Syrian regime, Russian or pro-regime forces partnered with them.”
There is nothing legitimate about the military activities of the US and its allies inside Syria, which, under the guise of the “war on terror,” are seeking to carve out areas that can be used to mount operations against the Assad regime and its Russian and Iranian backers. As ISIS militias in both Syria and Iraq are in retreat, the US preparations to move against Assad are coming increasingly into the open.
The Syrian army issued a statement saying that its aircraft had been on a mission against ISIS when it came under fire, accused the US of “coordinating” with ISIS and warned that the incident would have “dangerous repercussions.” The pilot has not been found and is presumed dead.
The US attack follows its shooting down of an unmanned pro-Syrian government drone earlier in June after it allegedly fired on US-backed troops in southern Syria near the border with Iraq. The US military has unilaterally declared “a deconfliction zone” with a radius of 55 kilometres around a training base at al-Tanf—a key border crossing between the two countries.
In effect, Washington has carved out an area of Syria where US and British special forces train so-called rebels—supposedly to fight ISIS, but in reality for its proxy war against the Assad regime. The US has already conducted air strikes against pro-Syrian government forces that have sought to regain control of the vital border area.
Last week Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov phoned US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and demanded that the US stop attacking Syrian government forces as they seek to drive ISIS militias out of the border areas. “Lavrov expressed his categorical disagreement with the US strikes on pro-government forces and called on him to take concrete measures to prevent similar incidents in the future,” the Russian foreign ministry reported.
The situation throughout Syria remains extremely fraught with the Assad regime accusing the US-led forces besieging Raqqa of allowing ISIS fighters to escape to the south where government troops are battling ISIS for control of the city of Deir es-Zor.
Over the weekend, Iran’s military fired ground-to-ground missiles for the first time from Iranian territory against ISIS positions inside Syria. While claiming that they were in retaliation for the June 7 ISIS attacks in Tehran, the missile attacks into the Deir es-Zor area were clearly aimed at bolstering the Syrian government forces.