The Pentagon has confirmed that it destroyed a pro-government tank in eastern Syria on Sunday, marking the second US attack on Syrian forces in a week and raising concerns about a serious military confrontation in the country.
Pentagon officials claim that US special operations forces working as advisers to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) came under attack from a Soviet-made T-72 battle tank operated by pro-government forces. In response, US forces called in a drone strike, destroying the tank.
Lt. General Jeffrey Harrigan, commander of the US Air Forces Central Command, told reporters at the Pentagon on Tuesday that the airstrike was an act of self-defense.
“We detected and saw a tank that took a shot at us,” Harrigan said. “It continued to move, so we again executed self-defense rules of engagement to protect ourselves. And I believe, again, that’s something we always have the right to do and will make sure we’re in a position to do,” Harrigan added.
The drone strike marks the second time in a week that US forces have carried out “defensive” airstrikes against government forces in Syria, leading some to speculate about the likelihood of a major military confrontation between the United States and Syrian forces and their allies.
“In such an intertwined military situation with all these forces very close to each other in a medium-sized country, but in regions that are rather small, then the possibility of things spiraling out of control are very, very real,” Richard Becker, an anti-war activist, told RT.
On February 7, the US-led coalition in Syria carried out several “defensive” strikes against Syrian forces in retaliation for “unprovoked” attacks on SDF forces, killing an estimated 100 pro-government fighters. The Russian Defense Ministry says the US targeted Syrian forces advancing against an Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) “sleeper cell” in Deir ez-Zor province.
Moscow has not minced its words when describing its position on Washington’s “defensive” strikes. Vasily Nebenzya, Russian ambassador to the UN, called the US presence in Syria “illegal” on Thursday during a closed-door meeting of the UN Security Council. He reminded council members that “nobody invited them there.”
The Russian Ministry of Defense also weighed in, saying the US attacks “once again proved that the true goal of the continuous illegal presence of US forces in Syria is already not the fight against ISIS international terrorist group, but the capture and control of the economic assets belonging solely to the Syrian Arab Republic.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov warned that the US had plans to partition Syria and was “flirting with various segments of Syrian society that oppose the government” – a strategy that will likely have “dangerous consequences.”
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said last week that the US intends to maintain an open-ended military presence of approximately 2,000 troops in Syria order to “support our partners and prevent the return of terrorist groups.”
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