American aircraft bombed a military convoy flying Syrian flags in the country’s southeast on Friday, marking the first time the U.S. military has targeted regime forces in Syria’s six-year civil war, according to U.S. Defense officials.
The U.S. strikes came after the military convoy came too close to a U.S commando base and failed to respond to multiple warnings, according the officials.
The strike showed American commanders are willing to use force to maintain de facto safe zones in the country’s east, where U.S. forces are training local militias to battle the Islamic State and provide security in liberated regions.
U.S. forces spotted a convoy of vehicles, bulldozers and tanks moving toward the garrison at al-Tanf near the Jordanian and Iraqi borders early Friday, and watched as the group stopped within 20 miles of the outpost and began digging defensive positions.
The Americans first alerted their Russian colleagues using a special hotline the two sides set up to ensure their aircraft don’t operate in the same airspace. The Russians were unsuccessful in reaching the regime or convincing the group to turn around, after which U.S. aircraft buzzed the encampment to warn the forces off, according to the officials.
Warning shots were then fired, followed by airstrikes that destroyed the ground positions, along with one tank and several vehicles. Officials would not comment on any casualties.
The strikes were taken on the order of American military commanders in the region under the authorities granted by the Trump administration allowing the military greater leeway to strike targets they deem necessary.
The U.S. forces on the ground were in no danger, but the strikes were deemed to be in self defense because the Syrian regime forces were within about 20 miles of the U.S. position, one military official said.
In a separate incident, a Syrian SU-22 fighter entered the deconfliction zone and was intercepted by a pair of American F-22 fighter aircraft. The Syrian…