The U.S. military shot down a Syrian aircraft on Sunday after it allegedly bombed U.S.-backed rebels in the town of Ja’Din, located just south of al-Tabqah in the countryside of Raqqa Province.
“At 6:43 p.m., a Syrian regime SU-22 dropped bombs near SDF [Syrian Democratic Forces] fighters south of Tabqah and, in accordance with rules of engagement and in collective self-defense of coalition partnered forces, was immediately shot down by a U.S. F/A-18E Super Hornet,” U.S. officials affiliated with Operation Inherent Resolve said in a statement.
Several SDF fighters were reportedly injured in the Syrian air raid, and the group quickly vacated Ja’Din after the assault, a town located two kilometers north of an established ceasefire zone.
The SDF is a multi-ethnic rebel faction led by Kurdish YPG fighters and backed by the United States. The group is currently fighting in ISIS-held areas of Syria, having launched an operation to liberate Raqqa, the de-facto ISIS capital, earlier this month. ISIS has held Raqqa since 2013.
In its statement, the U.S.-led coalition stressed that it would rather fight ISIS, but said it would defend its local allies.
“The coalition does not seek to fight Syrian regime, Russian, or pro-regime forces partnered with them, but will not hesitate to defend coalition or partner forces from any threat,” the statement said, adding “The demonstrated hostile intent and actions of pro-regime forces toward coalition and partner forces in Syria conducting legitimate counter-ISIS operations will not be tolerated.”
A Syrian correspondent for al-Masdar News, Majd Fahd, criticized the U.S. strike for interfering with anti-ISIS operations (not to mention possibly killing his cousin!).
You American bastards just shot down my cousin’s aircraft (Ali) while taking out the scumbags of ISIS in the area.
Ali hope you are OK bro pic.twitter.com/z6IKFgbtqJ
— Majd Fahd (@Syria_Protector) June 18, 2017
While members of the SDF were apparently wounded in the Syrian strike (not exactly consistent with the language of the U.S. statement, which said the bombs were dropped “near,” not on, SDF personnel), a statement from the Syrian General Command insisted the jet was pursuing fleeing ISIS fighters.
The U.S. shot down the Syrian aircraft “during the implementation of a combat mission against the terrorist organization Daesh,” the statement said, using the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State, which “led to the crash [of the jet] and the loss of the pilot.”
The statement went on to describe the strike as “blatant aggression,” and accused the U.S.-backed coalition of coordinating with ISIS, claiming that the strike “exposes the malicious intentions of the United States of America.”
Finally, the statement warned of “serious repercussions” for additional attacks and vowed to continue its fight against ISIS and the al-Nusra Front (the original name of the Syrian al-Qaeda affiliate, which now fights under the moniker “Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham”).
Other reports, moreover, corroborate the claim that the Syrian jet was engaging fleeing ISIS militants, an account denied by American officials.
Previous Strikes & Illegal Occupation
Prior to Sunday’s strike, the U.S.-led coalition had bombed Assad-allied forces at least three separate times in the last four weeks, with one additional unconfirmed assault in Southeastern Syria on June 14, the latter of which pro-government sources deny.
In each of the previous incidents American officials maintained that the pro-Assad militias posed a threat to U.S. troops or U.S.-trained rebels, however by all accounts the militias were simply maneuvering in areas close to the American garrison near the border crossing in al-Tanf, not advancing on it.
The U.S. garrison, indeed all American military presence in Syria, is illegal under international law and goes expressly against the wishes of Syria’s sovereign government.
The United Nations defines the high crime of aggression as “the use of armed force by a State against the sovereignty, territorial integrity or political independence of another State, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Charter of the United Nations,” a description perfectly in line with America’s actions in Syria.
“Crimes against peace” are among the most dire offenses under international law, a principle established during the Nuremberg Tribunals after the Second World War. At one point in the tribunal, chief American prosecutor Robert H. Jackson famously remarked:
To initiate a war of aggression, therefore, is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole. [Emphasis added]
It is difficult to square the claim from U.S. officials that it would prefer to fight ISIS in light of the repeated attempts to scuttle gains made by local anti-ISIS militias. With every new strike on the Syrian government or its allies, the U.S.’s true intentions in the country are called further into question.
Last week, the Russians expressed concern after the U.S. deployed a long-range M142 HIMARS rocket artillery battery in Southern Syria, a truck-mounted rocket launcher with a range of about 300 kilometers. That means the U.S. could potentially strike Damascus from its garrison in al-Tanf.
“The U.S.-led anti-Daesh coalition has several times already attacked Syrian government forces fighting Daesh near the Jordanian border,” the Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement. “It is possible to assume that similar strikes could be continued in the future, involving HIMARS from now on. So what objectives is the U.S. pursuing in Syria and whom are the U.S. servicemen fighting there?”
Russia is Assad’s strongest ally and has been involved directly in the Syrian conflict since 2015.
Countering Iran & Long-term Involvement
Perhaps more alarming are unconfirmed reports of an agreement made between the United States and the Kurdish YPG that would allow American forces to occupy YPG-held territory for up to 10 years in exchange for ongoing military aid.
The chance for a long-term U.S. presence in Syria has been a concern for non-interventionists for some time (the present author included), since it drastically increases and prolongs the potential for clashes between the U.S. and the Syria-Russia-Iran camp, and thus the chance for an escalation into something much worse.
While the U.S. justifies its assaults on pro-Assad militias with claims that they pose a threat, more likely at work here is the American desire to prevent Iran a clear path through Iraq and Syria along the Damascus-Baghdad highway, a route that could be used to supply Hezbollah militants in Southern Lebanon, among other things. If countering Iran is indeed the object, then the 10-year occupation plan is made all the more likely, but no less short-sighted.
In both Iraq and Syria, Iran supports many of the Shi’a militias that are currently engaged in the fight against ISIS. The Shi’a militias in Iraq are known as the Hashd al-Shaabi, or the “Popular Mobilization Forces,” and the United States more or less tolerates their participation in operations. In Syria, on the other hand, the policy is quite the opposite.
The three American strikes on Assad-allied forces in recent weeks all targeted Iran-backed militias, who have been attempting to link up with allied forces in Iraq in order to secure the valuable Damascus-Baghdad highway.
Iranian influence in the region, including access to the aforementioned highway, won’t disappear once ISIS is transformed from a territory-holding quasi-state back into a vanilla insurgency, meaning the American presence in the country will have to continue long after the demise of the radical group if it wants to contend with “Shi’a expansionism.”
Delving further into the sectarian conflict between the emerging “Shi’a Crescent” (Iran, Iraq, Syria, South Lebanon) and the Sunni monarchies of the Gulf can only serve to further destabilize the region, cost U.S. taxpayers billions of dollars and keep the U.S. bogged down in a never-ending military quagmire.
After 15 years of nonstop war, what does the United States have to show for its efforts? A region ablaze with chaos and extremism, more Islamic radicals than ever before and a mountain of squandered treasure soaked in the blood of thousands of Americans and foreigners alike.
One can only shudder at the thought of what comes after another 10 years of that. The U.S. should have packed up its toys and gone home long ago, but it should certainly do so once ISIS is kicked out of its strongholds in Iraq and Syria.
A brief window will open for America to extricate itself from this disaster, but if recent developments are any indication, that becomes less and less likely by the day.
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Contributed by Will Porter of The Daily Sheeple.