Pentagon warns Syria on air strikes

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The Pentagon warned Syria on Friday not to conduct air strikes near its own forces in the country a day after it scrambled jets to defend against attacks by Syrian government aircraft.

The aircraft from the US-led coalition were sent to the area of north-eastern Syria on Thursday after Syrian jets conducted air strikes against Kurdish forces who have been conducting operations with the help of US special operations advisers.

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Captain Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, said it was the first time that the US had scrambled aircraft in Syria in response to regime air strikes and that it was unusual for the Assad regime to take such action against US-backed Kurdish forces. More US air patrols have been sent to the area, he said.

The incident underlines the risks for escalation between the US and Russian-backed Syrian government forces even with the relatively limited American military presence in the country.

“As we’ve said in the past, the Syrian regime would be well-advised not to interfere with coalition forces or our partners,” Capt Davis said. The US had made it clear that it would take whatever action was necessary to defend its forces in the area, he said.

The air strikes followed two days of clashes in Hassakeh in the north-east of Syria between Kurdish fighters, who control part of the city, and forces loyal to the Assad regime.

The coalition aircraft were sent to the area on Thursday to try to intercept two Syrian SU-24s that were conducting air strikes in Hassakeh, however the Syrian jets were already leaving the area by the time they arrived. Syrian aircraft continued to bomb the area on Friday, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

“It troubles us when we see . . . regime air strikes in Hassakeh in an area where it’s well known by everybody, including the [Syrian] regime, that the coalition is actively engaged in operations against Isis,” Capt Davis said. “We view instances that place coalition personnel at risk with the utmost seriousness and we do have the inherent right of self-defence when US forces are at risk.”

The US had immediately contacted the Russians, who said the aircraft flying in the area were not theirs, he said. Through the Russians, the US had sent a message that it would defend its troops around Hassakeh.

Backed by US special operations forces, Kurdish forces have been fighting against Isis fighters in and around Hassakeh.

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