US takes on Bashar
Escalation as coalition routs Government troops after attack
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 Secretary 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.