US again signals to Assad regime and allies: Stay outside rebel zone in eastern Syria
The US has carried out its third airstrike, and its second in three days, against pro-Assad units in eastern Syria.
US warplanes fired on three technical vehicles on Thursday, maintaining a 55-km (34-mile) exclusion zone around a Free Syrian Army base where US special forces are present.
Two US officials confirmed the strike about 24 miles from the Tanf base near the Iraqi border.
The US military carried out the first strike last month against a pro-regime convoy, including Hezbollah fighters and Iraqi militia, trying to establish a forward position. It subsequently dropped leaflets warning against any further attempt to move inside the zone.
The US military also said that it downed an Iranian drone, which was armed and firing on “coalition forces carrying out a patrol”. The US-led coalition’s spokesman, Colonel Ryan Dillon, said that the drone “hit dirt”, causing no injuries or damage, but added: “This clearly showed a threat even if it were a warning shot; it was something that showed a hostile intent, a hostile action and posed a threat to our forces because this drone still had munitions that were still on it.”
The prospect of a confrontation between the foreign-led, pro-Assad forces and the US-supported Free Syrian Army has grown this spring, after the FSA and then the regime and its allies took large areas of the sparsely-populated Baida region in eastern Syria from the Islamic State.
The US has insisted that the Free Syrian Army only fight the Islamic State and not pro-Assad units. However, Washington is concerned that a further advance by Iranian-led militia, accompanied by a parallel push against the Islamic State on the Iraqi side of the border, will establish Iran’s first ground supply line into Syria.
On Thursday, US spokesman Dillon tried to return attention to the Islamic State, “Unfortunately, there have been incidents that have taken our focus away from fighting ISIS.”
TOP PHOTO: Free Syrian Army and US troops near the Tanf border crossing on the Iraqi border, May 23, 2017
Amid Assault on ISIS-Held Raqqa, Confusion Over Coalition Advice to Civilians
Airwars reports confusion over conflicting advice to up to 100,000 civilians in the ISIS-held city of Raqqa, amid the offensive by the Kurds-led Syrian Democratic Forces and US airstrikes.
As the SDF began to move into the city last week, it encouraged civilians to leave, so they will not join the hundreds killed by shelling and airstrikes since the advance towards Raqqa began last November and — in the words of an SDF press release — “so that they do not become trapped, used as human shields or become targets for ISIS snipers”.
A spokesperson for the US-led coalition said it had “communicated with the citizens of Raqqa through several means, to include leaflets dropped by Coalition aircraft, urging them to evacuate the city if it is safe to do so”.
But another coalition spokesperson, Colonel Joseph Scrocca, said Wednesday that the SDF no longer wants “civilians to leave. “Since transitioning to offensive in Raqqah yesterday, SDF is now encouraging civilians to stay in their homes, shelter in place, and avoid ISIS fighting positions”.
Scrocca claimed the SDF “are using a variety of technical and non-technical means such as leaflets, radio broadcasts and internet messages.”
But activists of Raqqa is Being Silently Slaughtered said residents were unaware of the shift and still under the impression that they were best off leaving.
“They dropped these papers and told the people who want to flee to take them and go to SDF areas,” said an RBSS member. “If they want them to stay, then why did they drop papers and tell them to leave?”
SDF spokesperson Jesper Soder asserted:
We have told the ones closest to our positions to try to flee towards us. And the ones that are far away to stay inside and hide inside. Also flyers have been dropped in Raqqa telling civilians to hide or seek refuge at our positions.
The SDF did not explain how it differentiated between groups inside the city to tell them whether to leave or remain.
17,000 Flee Latest Fighting in Daraa City
Opposition activists say about 17,000 people have fled the ongoing battles in Daraa city in southern Syria near the Jordanian border.
The regime’s military has carried out hundreds of airstrikes, with an escalation in the past week, in an effort to check a rebel advance inside the city.
Nibras Abu Nizar, an opposition spokesman in eastern Daraa Province, said multiple families are now crammed in rental homes and tents in “tragic” conditions: “No organizations are currently helping them.”
He said the town of Nuaimah, east of Daraa with a pre-war population of 7,400 people, is “virtually empty of residents”. At least 60% of the town is destroyed, with the suburb’s homes “totally damaged”.
Ayham al-Seed, a citizen journalist in Daraa, said residential areas in the frontline are “doomed” with no passable roads or drinking water.
Pro-Assad forces have dropped bombs, shelled, and fired rockets intensively over the past nine days. However, rebels still hold much of the strategic Manshiyah district that they have taken this spring, threatening to move through the rest of the city where the Syrian uprising began in March 2011.
— Qalaat Al Mudiq (@QalaatAlMudiq) June 9, 2017