U.S. shoots down drone close to Iraqi-Syrian border - statement


Reuters

UPDATE 2-U.S. shoots down drone close to Iraqi-Syrian border - statement


(Adds details and background)
    AMMAN, June 20 (Reuters) - The U.S.-led coalition said on
Tuesday it had shot down an armed "pro-Syrian regime" drone that
had been bearing down on its forces near a garrison in Syria's
southeast, and a Western intelligence source identified the
aircraft as Iranian.
    It marked the second time in three days U.S. forces have
shot down an aircraft operated by Damascus or its allies in
Syria, and reflected mounting tensions over a stretch of the
Syrian-Iraqi frontier where U.S. forces have established a base.
    In a statement, U.S. forces said the drone was fired on
after it "displayed hostile intent and advanced on coalition
forces". The Western intelligence source said it was
"unquestionably Iranian". "They are testing the limits," the
source told Reuters without elaborating.
    The area falls in a part of Syria that was recently
identified as a military priority by Damascus, and is seen as
strategically important for Iran as it seeks to secure a land
corridor between forces it backs in Syria and Iraq.
    The coalition statement said the location was close to where
another "pro-regime" drone - which intelligence sources had also
identified as Iranian  - was shot down on June 8 after dropping
bombs near coalition forces.
    In an indirect reference to Iranian-backed forces that have
been gathering in the eastern desert region, the coalition
statement cited a recent escalation of tensions and said it
would not "tolerate any hostile intent and action of pro-regime
forces".
    Tensions escalated on Sunday as the U.S. army brought down
the jet near Raqqa and Iran launched missiles at Islamic State
targets in eastern Syria - the first time each state has carried
out such actions in the multi-sided Syrian war.
     Russia, like Iran an ally of President Bashar al-Assad,
issued a warning of its own to the United States in response to
the downing of the Syrian jet, saying on Monday it would view as
targets any planes flying west of the Euphrates River, though it
stopped short of saying it would shoot any down. [nL8N1JG2TY]
    In Syria's tangled conflict, Washington backs a coalition of
rebel forces fighting both President Bashar al-Assad and
Islamist militants, while Assad is backed by Russia, Iran and
Shi'ite militia.
    The U.S. military has repeatedly warned forces fighting on
Assad's side to stay away from a "deconfliction zone", agreed
with Russia, near a garrison used by U.S. special forces and
U.S.-backed militia around Al Tanf.
    On several occasions in recent weeks, warplanes of the
U.S.-led coalition have also struck pro-government forces to
prevent them advancing from the Al Tanf garrison in southeastern
Syria at a spot where the country's borders join Iraq and
Jordan.
    Washington also described those strikes as self-defense.
    The competition between the Syrian army and the militias and
U.S.-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) rebels has stepped up in the
Badia desert that stretches to the Iraqi border after Islamic
State abandoned large swathes of territory as it defends Raqqa
and Deir Zor.
    The Syrian army has been able to make rapid adavances
allowing them to reach the border for the first time in years.


 (Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by Richard
Balmforth)
 ((suleiman.al-khalidi@thomsonreuters.com; +962 79 5521407;
Reuters Messaging:
suleiman.al-khalidi.reuters.com@thomsonreuters.net))

Keywords: MIDEAST CRISIS/SYRIA DRONE (UPDATE  2)



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