Warplanes belonging to the U.S.-led coalition in Syria bombed elements of dictator Bashar Assad’s army on Saturday. The coalition said the airstrike was conducted in defense of local allies after Syrian forces fired upon them.
Syrian media initially described the airstrike as an “unprovoked and unexpected” attack on a Syrian Arab Army artillery position in the town of Al-Sukkariyeh near the Iraqi border. This area contains some of the last remaining towns held by the Islamic State. Both the Syrian military and the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are in the region fighting ISIS holdouts.
According to the Syrians, the strikes injured two soldiers and destroyed one artillery piece.
“Our partner forces were fired upon and exercised their inherent right to self-defense,” coalition spokesman Col. Sean Ryan responded on Sunday. He indicated an investigation of the incident is underway.
Russia’s Sputnik News jumped in to help its Syrian ally by running a story that implied the U.S. coalition airstrike opened the door for ISIS forces (also known as “Daesh”) to counterattack the weakened Syrian military:
Recently, the SDF managed to significantly reduce the grip of Daesh in the region by regaining control of an area south of the town of Hajin. The only remaining Daesh stronghold east of the Euphrates remains near the city of Baghuz, according to reports.
Last week, a group of Daesh fighters fleeing the Baghuz area attempted to conduct an attack on portions of the Syrian Army near Deir ez-Zor. The offense began after the US-led military coalition in Syria conducted an airstrike on Syrian Armed Forces artillery, injuring two servicemen. Another group of eight Daesh terrorists attempted to conduct an infiltration operation near Palmyra, but were eliminated during a subsequent Syrian Army operation.
Both coalition and SDF leadership expressed confidence over the weekend that ISIS is down to only a few villages in the area. They accused ISIS fighters of using women and children as human shields in a desperate bid to hold their positions. Coalition forces are trying to encourage civilians to clear the area through a humanitarian escape corridor.
Several hundred refugees have reportedly poured through this corridor each day, many of them needing urgent attention for injuries, exposure to the elements, and starvation. Foreign ISIS fighters have been captured while attempting to flee with the refugees.
“It is just a matter of days, not weeks. They are finished, militarily at least,” SDF commander Roni Qamishli told Sky News on Sunday.