US takes on Bashar

Es­ca­la­tion as coali­tion routs gov­ern­ment troops af­ter at­tack

The Weekend Post - - World -

MORE than 100 pro-Syr­ian Gov­ern­ment forces were killed in an at­tack on a rebel head­quar­ters that the US de­fended with pre­ci­sion air strikes.

The US-led coali­tion said it had re­pelled an un­pro­voked at­tack by more than 500 troops aligned with Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar al-As­sad, who were backed by ar­tillery, tanks, mul­ti­ple-launch rocket sys­tems and mor­tars.

In a three-hour bat­tle, US strike fight­ers, Her­cules AC-130 fire-sup­port air­craft, Apache he­li­copter gun­ships and heavy ar­tillery opened fire to de­fend the strong­hold in Deir al-Zor prov­ince, 8km east of the Euphrates River.

While the at­tack by pro­gov­ern­ment forces was a clear breach of an agreed de­mar­ca­tion line in the bat­tle against Is­lamic State, US De­fence Sec- re­tary Jim Mat­tis has dis­missed con­cerns the US is be­ing dragged into a broader con­flict in Syria.

It comes as the US con­firmed the cap­ture in Syria of two Bri­tish IS fight­ers, the fi­nal mem­bers of a kid­nap­ping cell dubbed “The Bea­tles” that also in­cluded “Ji­hadi John”. The group was no­to­ri­ous for cap­tur­ing Western­ers and video­tap­ing be­head­ings.

Lon­don-born Alexanda Amon Kotey and El Shafee el­Sheikh were cap­tured in Jan­u­ary by US-backed forces.

Mo­hammed “Ji­hadi John” Emwazi was killed in a 2015 drone strike, while Aine Davis, the fourth mem­ber of the gang, is be­ing held in Turkey.

US sources said this week’s at­tack on the Syr­ian Demo­cratic Forces head­quar­ters and train­ing fa­cil­ity, which houses em­bed­ded US mil­i­tary ad­vis­ers, was un­pro­voked.

Pro-gov­ern­ment forces man­aged to ad­vance to within 150m of the SDF com­pound but the in­tense US-led coali­tion routed the as­sault, killing more than 100 at­tack­ers.

A deadly es­ca­la­tion to in­clude Rus­sian com­bat air­craft was avoided. Rus­sia con­ceded it had no knowl­edge of the at­tack by the mili­tia.

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