US military downs UAV, strikes militias in Syria

The US military shot down an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) that attacked coalition forces in the At Tanf area in southeastern Syria yesterday. The “armed pro-Syria regime unmanned aerial vehicle” bombed coalition forces after the US military again fired on pro-Syrian government militias operating in the area. The US military has now engaged the militias, some which are from Iraq, three separate times since mid-May.

The US military said that the UAV that attacked Coalition forces yesterday was “similar in size to a US MQ-1 Predator.” It is unclear who operated the UAV. Only Russia, Syria, Iran, and Hezbollah would have the capacity to do so.

The engagement took place after Coalition forces “destroyed two pro-regime armed technical vehicles that advanced toward coalition forces at At Tanf inside the established deconfliction zone,” the military said in a statement released on its website.

American, British and Norwegian special forces are known to be operating at the At Tanf Garrison. The coalition forces are training local militias to battle the Islamic State along the Syrian-Iraqi border.

The name of the pro-regime militia that was targeted was not disclosed. Several pro-Syrian regime militias, including Hezbollah, the Sayyid al Shuhada Brigades, the Imam Ali Brigades, the Fatemiyoun Division’s Hazrat-e Fatemeh Zahra Brigade, and the Abu Fadl al Abbas Brigades operate in the area. The Sayyid al Shuhada Brigades and the Imam Ali Brigades are Iraqi militias that are backed by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards – Qods Force (IRGC). These two militias operate in both Iraq and Syria. Both belong to Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Force, the grouping of Iraqi militias that was formed to battle the Islamic State. The Fatemiyoun Division is a militia comprised of Afghan Shiites, and is also backed by the IRGC.

US forces have engaged pro-regime militias two other times in the At Tanf area in the last three weeks. The clashes risk expanding the war in Syria that initially targeted the Islamic State to include pro-regime militias allied with Iran.

On May 18, US aircraft struck militias after they entered the deconfliction zone. The Sayyid al Shuhada Brigades claimed it was targeted in the airstrikes and said that one of its fighters was killed, while six more were wounded.

Three days ago, the US military hit militias who advanced on the deconfliction zone with armored vehicles. The US military claimed it destroyed “two artillery pieces and an anti-aircraft weapon” and damaged a tank. It is unclear if the militias incurred any casualties.

US seeks to deescalate in At Tanf

In the US military’s latest announcement on the clashes in At Tanf, it sought to clarify that the Islamic State, and not pro-Syrian regime forces, is the focus of its operations.

“The Coalition’s mission is to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria. The Coalition does not seek to fight Syrian regime, Russian or pro-regime forces partnered with them,” the Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve statement noted.

However CJTF-OIR noted that its forces in At Tanf would continue to protect itself.

“The demonstrated hostile intent and actions of pro-regime forces near Coalition and partner forces in southern Syria, however, continue to concern us and the Coalition will take appropriate measures to protect our forces,” the statement continued. “As long as pro-regime forces are oriented toward Coalition and partnered forces the potential for conflict is escalated.”

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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