A U.S. air­craft

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY THOMAS GIB­BONS- NEFF AND KA­REEM FAHIM thomas.gib­bons-neff@wash­post.com Fahim re­ported from Is­tan­bul. Louisa Loveluck contributed to this report from Beirut.

shot down a Syr­ian gov­ern­ment fighter jet af­ter it bombed U.S.-backed Syr­ian fight­ers, the Pen­tagon said.

A U.S. strike air­craft shot down a Syr­ian gov­ern­ment fighter jet Sun­day shortly af­ter the Syr­i­ans bombed U.S.-backed fight­ers in north­ern Syria, the Pen­tagon said in a state­ment.

The Pen­tagon said the down­ing of the air­craft came hours af­ter Syr­ian loy­al­ist forces at­tacked U.S.-backed fight­ers, known as the Syr­ian Demo­cratic Forces, in the vil­lage of Ja’Din, south­west of Raqqa. The rare at­tack was the first time a U.S. jet has shot down a manned hos­tile air­craft in more than a decade, and it sig­naled the United States’ sharply in­ten­si­fy­ing role in Syria’s war.

The in­ci­dent is the fourth time within a month that the U.S. mil­i­tary has at­tacked pro-Syr­ian gov­ern­ment forces.

A state­ment dis­trib­uted by the Syr­ian mil­i­tary said that the air­craft’s lone pi­lot was killed in the at­tack and that the jet was car­ry­ing out a mis­sion against the Is­lamic State.

“The at­tack stresses co­or­di­na­tion be­tween the US and ISIS, and it re­veals the evil in­ten­tions of the US in ad­min­is­trat­ing ter­ror­ism and in­vest­ing it to pass the US-Zion­ist project in the re­gion,” the Syr­ian state­ment said, us­ing an acro­nym for the Is­lamic State.

Be­fore it downed the Syr­ian plane, the U.S. mil­i­tary used a “de­con­flic­tion” chan­nel to com­mu­ni­cate with Rus­sia, Syria’s main ally, to pre­vent the sit­u­a­tion from es­ca­lat­ing, the Pen­tagon said.

U.S.-led jets stopped the fight­ing by fly­ing close to the ground and at a low speed in what is called a “show of force,” the Pen­tagon said.

About two hours later, de­spite the calls to stand down and the U.S. pres­ence over­head, a Syr­ian Su-22 jet at­tacked the Syr­ian Demo­cratic Forces, drop­ping an un­known num­ber of mu­ni­tions on the U.S.-backed force. Col. John Thomas, a spokesman for the U.S. Cen­tral Com­mand, said that the Syr­ian air­craft ar­rived with lit­tle warn­ing and that U.S. air­craft nearby tried to hail the Syr­ian jet af­ter it had dropped its bombs. Thomas also said U.S. forces were in the area but were not di­rectly threat­ened.

Af­ter the hail­ing at­tempts, a U.S. F/A-18 shot down the Syr­ian air­craft “in ac­cor­dance with rules of en­gage­ment and in col­lec­tive self-de­fense of coali­tion part­nered forces,” the Pen­tagon said.

Thomas re­jected the Syr­ian gov­ern­ment’s claims that the air­craft was bomb­ing the Is­lamic State, adding that Ja’Din is con­trolled by Syr­ian Demo­cratic Forces and that the mil­i­tant group had not been in the area for some time.

The Syr­ian Demo­cratic Forces, a coali­tion of pre­dom­i­nantly Arab and Kur­dish fight­ers, is a key proxy force for the U.S.-led coali­tion in Syria. The fight­ers were in­stru­men­tal in re­tak­ing towns and vil­lages from the Is­lamic State in re­cent months and are fight­ing to re­take the group’s de-facto cap­i­tal of Raqqa.

Also on Sun­day, Iran’s Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Guard Corps an­nounced that it had launched a rare cross­bor­der mis­sile at­tack against Is­lamic State mil­i­tants in eastern Syria. The mis­sile strikes, launched from Iran, were in re­tal­i­a­tion for twin Is­lamic State at­tacks ear­lier this month in Tehran on the par­lia­ment and the tomb of the leader of Iran’s Is­lamic revo­lu­tion that killed 18 peo­ple, ac­cord­ing to a state­ment car­ried by Iran’s of­fi­cial news agency.

The mis­sile at­tacks had tar­geted a mil­i­tant com­mand cen­ter and other fa­cil­i­ties in Deir ez­Zour, a con­tested re­gion in eastern Syria, where the United States, Iran and other pow­ers and proxy forces are fight­ing for con­trol. The strikes had killed “a large num­ber” of mil­i­tants and de­stroyed equip­ment and weapons, the state­ment said.

Ear­lier this month, a U.S. jet downed a pro-Syr­ian gov­ern­ment drone that dropped an ap­par­ent dud mu­ni­tion near U.S.-led coali­tion forces near the south­ern Syr­ian town of At Tanf. U.S.-led forces have in­creased their pres­ence in At Tanf to de­ter pro-Syr­ian gov­ern­ment forces in the area. Iran-backed Shi­ite mili­tias, along with other pro-Syr­ian gov­ern­ment forces, have steadily ad­vanced around At Tanf de­spite re­peated warn­ings from the U.S. mil­i­tary.

At Tanf is a key town on the Iraq-Syr­ian bor­der that has been home to a U.S. spe­cial op­er­a­tions train­ing out­post for months.

“The coali­tion’s mis­sion is to de­feat ISIS in Iraq and Syria,” the Pen­tagon’s state­ment said. “The coali­tion does not seek to fight Syr­ian regime, Rus­sian, or proregime forces part­nered with them, but will not hes­i­tate to de­fend coali­tion or part­ner forces from any threat.”

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