The U.S. Strike in Syria

U.S. aircraft targeted a Syrian military convoy near the border with Iraq and Jordan.

A pair of U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagles fly over northern Iraq after conducting airstrikes in Syria on September 23, 2014. 
A pair of U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagles fly over northern Iraq after conducting airstrikes in Syria on September 23, 2014.  (Reuters )

U.S.-led coalition jets reportedly struck Syrian and allied forces inside Syria, the coalition said Thursday.

The area, which is near Syria’s border with Jordan and Iraq, is where U.S. and U.K. special-operations forces train Syrian rebels.

BuzzFeed News cited a U.S. defense official as confirming the strike was launched by the U.S. That would mark the first time the Syrian regime has been directly targeted by the U.S. since President Trump ordered a missile strike last month in response to the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons—and they also mark an escalation in the U.S. involvement in the Syrian civil war.

CBS News reported that the strikes were in response to Syrian regime vehicles violating a deconfliction zone set up around the military base in al-Tanf. It said Assad’s regime had violated the zone twice in recent days. Here’s more:

In one incident, 27 regime vehicles drove within 18 miles of al-Tanf, which breached the 34 mile radius of the army convoy. U.S. aircraft attempted to buzz the regime, but when the convoy didn't turn around, they conducted a strike against some of the vehicles.

In the second incident, an unarmed Syrian SU-22 fighter-bomber entered the deconfliction zone and was intercepted by a pair of F-22 fighter aircraft.

Fars, the Iranian news agency that is allied with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, reported that 3,000 fighters from Hezbollah, the Iran-backed Lebanese Shia militia, were deployed to Tanf “to prepare the Syrian army and its allies for thwarting the U.S. plots in the region and establish security at the Palmyra-Baghdad road.” It said the Syrian military and others had also been sent to the region.

The base was targeted by ISIS militants last month, but U.S. and allied fighters pushed the terrorists back. Three U.S.-backed Syrian fighters were killed in the hours-long battle.

The strikes are a dramatic turnaround for Trump, who during the presidential campaign said his priority was fighting ISIS, not Assad. Fighting both, he said, was both “madness and idiocy.” Yet, as the U.S. continues to fight ISIS in Syria and Iraq, it has also stepped up diplomatic pressure on the Assad regime—while insisting that regime change is not its immediate priority.

As I wrote at the time of the U.S. missile strikes:

The strikes deep inside Syria represent a major shift in U.S. policy. The Obama administration opted not to strike Assad or oust him using force despite his use of chemical weapons and crossing President Obama’s metaphorical “red line” in 2013 on the use of the such weapons. The U.S. focused instead on arming moderate rebels—an exercise that ultimately proved an embarrassing failure—and working with Russia on an agreement to destroy Syria’s chemical-weapons stockpile, an agreement that given this week’s attack appears not to have worked.

The U.S. strikes Friday risk exacerbating a delicate balance in Syria. Assad now controls more of the country than at any point since the civil war began there more than six years ago. He is there in large part because of his patrons in Russia and Iran, whose militaries are fighting in Syria against opposition groups; his position has also been strengthened by U.S. and allied strikes against ISIS, one of the most effective anti-Assad groups.

As Assad remains in power, details of atrocities committed by his regime are emerging with regularity. Earlier this week, the U.S. State Department said the Assad regime was incinerating the bodies of hanged prisoners at a military prison outside Damascus to “cover up the extent of mass murder.”