A U.S. warplane shut down a Syrian jet on Sunday near the Islamic State-held city of Raqqah, according to US officials, creating the latest escalation between the U.S. and Syria since the civil war began six years ago.
The Pentagon said the U.S.-led coalition took the unprecedented move after a Syrian Su-22 attack aircraft bombed its allies who were fighting Islamic State militants south of the city of Tabqah, roughly 25 miles west of Raqqah.
A U.S.-backed alliance of Kurdish and Arab militia fighters known as the Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF, is involved in a large-scale offensive on Raqqah, Islamic State’s self-declared capital in Syria.
About 4:30 p.m., Syrian forces loyal to President Bashar Assad attacked U.S. ground partners in the recently recaptured town of Jadin, south of Tabqah, according to a U.S. military timeline. The assault drove the militia fighters from the town. But the U.S. scrambled aircraft to fly over the battlefield in “a show of force” that stopped the pro-government forces’ advance.
Since the United States does not communicate with the Syrian military, U.S. commanders called their Russian counterparts on a special hotline set up to ensure that their pilots do not mistakenly run into, or fire upon each other as they conduct daily bombing runs over Syria.
Then about 2 hours later, a Syrian plane dropped bombs near U.S.-allied fighters south of Tabqah, the U.S. military said.
A U.S. fighter pilot, who launched from an aircraft carrier stationed in the Mediterranean Sea, identified the Syrian aircraft and shot it down immediately.
“The coalition’s mission is to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria,” the U.S. military statement said, using a common acronym for Islamic State. “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 Syrian military were unhappy about the plane that was shot down, claiming that the US has been coordinating with the Daesh.
A statement said its plane had been conducting a combat mission against Islamic State over the village of Resafa, which lies more than five miles southeast of Jadin, and said the U.S. attack resulted in the “loss of the pilot.”
“This blatant attack confirms the coordination between the United States and Daesh,” the Syrian statement said, employing the Arabic acronym for Islamic State. “Such aggressions will not bend the Syrian army from its determination to continue the war against Daesh … and restore security and stability.”
The shutdown is part of a steady escalation of the U.S. military’s role in Syria. Hundreds of U.S. special operations forces are working alongside Syrian rebels fighting the Islamic State, while U.S. warplanes and a Marine Corps artillery unit provide firepower for the advancing forces on a daily basis.