US warplanes shoot down regime’s Su-22 jet attacking Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces
UPDATE 1420 GMT: Russia has stepped back from its threat to US-led coalition aircraft.
Pulling back from its original statement that American and allies warplanes west of the Euphrates River will be “targeted”, the Defense Ministry now says they will be “escorted”.
Russia waters down threat to Coalition aircraft. Now says will 'escort'. A few minutes ago said would be tracked by Russian SAMs as targets pic.twitter.com/DDiX3IQMqF
— Airwars (@airwars) June 19, 2017
A Pentagon spokesman, Captain Jeff Davis, said, “We are aware of the Russian statements. We do not seek conflict with any party in Syria other than ISIS, but we will not hesitate to defend ourselves or our partners if threatened.”
A Baghdad-based spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition, Colonel Ryan Dillon, said, “Coalition aircraft continue to conduct operations throughout Syria, targeting ISIS forces and providing air support for coalition partner forces on the ground.”
However, Dillon indicated the US is avoiding sorties west of the Euphrates, “As a result of recent encounters involving pro-Syrian regime and Russian forces, we have taken prudent measures to reposition aircraft over Syria so as to continue targeting ISIS forces while ensuring the safety of our aircrews given known threats in the battlespace.”
UPDATE 1215 GMT: Russia is terminating its communications channel with the US for “deconfliction” in Syrian airspace:
As of June 19 this year, the Defense Ministry of the Russian Federation has ended its interaction with the US side under a memorandum for preventing incidents and providing for safe flights during operations in Syria and demands that the US command carry out a careful investigation and report about its results and the measures taken.
The shooting down of a Syrian Air Force jet in Syria’s airspace is a cynical violation of Syria’s sovereignty. The US’ repeated combat operations under the guise of ‘combating terrorism’ against the legitimate armed forces of a UN member-state are a flagrant violation of international law, in addition to being actual military aggression against the Syrian Arab Republic.
The Ministry threatened the US-led coalition by declaring a no-fly zone for the warplanes of America and its allies:
Any aircraft, including planes and drones of the international coalition, detected in the operation areas west of the Euphrates River by the Russian air forces will be followed by Russian ground-based air defense and air defense aircraft as air targets.
The deconfliction agreement was established soon after Russia’s military intervention, with thousands of strikes on opposition areas as well as some attacks on the Islamic State, from September 2015.
This strike can be regarded as another act of defiance of international law by the United States. What was it if not an act of aggression? It was also an act of assistance to those terrorists whom the United States is ostensibly fighting against.
Before the shift in Russia’s position, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said at a meeting in Beijing, “We call on the United States and all others who have their forces or their advisers on the ground to ensure coordination in our work.”
Meanwhile, Russian State outlet RT is posting articles to stir sentiment against the US and the Syrian Democratic Forces. It headlines an interview with the cousin of the downed pilot in which he says that the Assad regime is “definitely saying the truth” in its portrayal of the Su-22 jet attacking the Islamic State and not the SDF: “The Americans were totally wrong in making the decision.”
Targeting the SDF, RT quotes Fahd as saying that “the US would not pursue a ‘classic’ war with the Syrian Army and allied forces,” so instead chose to lead “a proxy war” through the Kurdish-led forces.
In response, the SDF has warned that it will defend itself against pro-Assad attacks.
General Talal Silo said in a statement said the Assad regime has “intended to launch an attack on the areas liberated areas by SDF, using warplanes, artillery and tanks: “We confirm that if the regime continued its attacks on our sites in al-Raqqa governorate, it would oblige us to respond and use our right to lawfully defend our forces.”
Central Command said in a statement that the Russian-made Su-22 jet was downed “in collective self-defense of Coalition-partnered forces”, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces near Tabqa in Raqqa Province in northern Syria.
The Pentagon said that, hours earlier, pro-Assad units had attacked the SDF in the nearby village of Ja’din, southwest of Raqqa. US warplanes, in a “show of force”, stopped the fighting by flying close to the ground and at a low speed.
About two hours later, the regime Su-22 dropped munitions on the SDF, including US special forces in the area. A Central Command spokesman said that US warplanes tried to hail the pilot and then a F/A-18 shot down the warplane “in accordance with rules of engagement”.
Before the shootdown, the US military used a “deconfliction” channel to communicate with Russia, the Assad regime’s main ally, the Pentagon said.
The regime military acknowledged the shootdown of the warplane, with the killing of the pilot. It claimed that the jet fighter 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 military said.
The Central Command spokesman, Colonel John Thomas, rejected the regime claims, noting that Ja’din has been controlled by the SDF for some time after ISIS withdrawal from the area.
The possibility of a confrontation between the Assad regime and the SDF has arisen because of an advance by the regime military and its allies from Aleppo Province to the east into Raqqa Province, as the weakening Islamic State has continued to retreat. The offensive is approaching the town of Tabqa, near Syria’s largest dam and about 40 km (25 miles) west of Raqqa, ISIS’s central position in the country.
Regime fighters at Resafa, in front of the Byzantine walls of the Old City:
The SDF fully captured both Tabqa and its dam on the Euphrates River last month, and is now pursuing a final offensive on Raqqa.
The Assad regime has largely avoided conflict with the SDF, led by the Kurdish militia YPG, and the Syrian Kurdistan Democratic Party (PYD), except in the divided city of Hasakah in eastern Syria. However, both the regime and Russia have taken a tougher propaganda line against the SDF this spring, accusing it of working with ISIS even as it was attacking the Islamic State.
In the past month, the US has also taken action against regime forces in eastern Syria, near the Iraqi and Jordanian borders, with a 55-km (34-mile) exclusion zone around the Free Syrian Army base at Tanf. On three occasions, US warplanes have struck pro-Assad convoys — including Hezbollah fighters and Iranian-supported Iraqi militia — causing casualties and destroying a tank and engineering vehicles.
The US is concerned that a pro-Assad advance into the zone, coupled with the offensive of Iranian-led militia against the Islamic State on the Iraqi side of the border, will establish Iran’s first ground route for weapons supplies into Syria.
SDF Claim 5th District Taken in ISIS-Held Raqqa
The Syrian Democratic Forces say they have taken a fifth district in the city of Raqqa from the Islamic State.
The Kurdish-led Forces said that supported by the US-led coalition’s air cover, they took the Baitara district after “heavy clashes” which caused “dozens” of ISIS casualties.
Clashes continue in the neighbourhoods of Hatin and Qadisiya in western Raqqa, according to the SDF.
The Forces began the final offensive almost two weeks ago and moved into Raqqa from the west and east. The SDF leadership claimed on Saturday that 312 ISIS fighters have been killed, while the Forces have suffered 15 deaths and 21 wounded.
Turkish Shelling Supports Rebels in Fight with Kurds-Led SDF in North
Turkey has supported rebels in their clashes with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces.
Local sources said fighting was renewed when the Kurdish militia YPG left US-mediated talks about returning 11 villages around the town of Tel Rifaat in northern Aleppo Province to the Free Syrian Army, and stepped up shelling of rebel areas, including displaced persons’ camps near Azaz in northwest Syria, causing several casualties among civilians.
The Turkish military shelled SDF on Barsaya mount near Azaz, close to the Turkish-Syrian border.
So far Turkey has not backed the FSA further to the east near Marea, where the SDF has also reportedly shelled and killed a civilian.
Picture: Orphans at Ramadan Breakfast in Besieged, Bombarded Douma
Children at a Ramadan breakfast for orphans and the poor in opposition-held Douma, northeast of Damascus:
Douma has held out for years against pro-Assad sieges and bombardments, including an escalation in attacks this spring as regime forces and their allies have advanced in the East Ghouta area near the capital.
About 600 adults and children were served at the event.