America’s widening role in Syria’s civil war

Washington (AFP) – The unprecedented US downing of a Syrian regime warplane highlights the rapidly shifting dynamic in the six-year conflict where President Donald Trump has given American commanders a freer rein in the battlefield.

The United States insisted Monday it wants no broader role in Syria’s civil war, and seeks only to destroy the Islamic State group, but the weekend incident shows the limits of America’s ability to stay disengaged.

With myriad competing forces quickly converging in Syria, and new powers delegated to Trump’s commanders, the risk of additional confrontation is real.

– What happened? –

An American F/A-18E Super Hornet shot down a Syrian SU-22 on Sunday evening as it “dropped bombs” near a US-backed alliance called the Syrian Democratic Forces, who are fighting IS, the US-led coalition said in a statement.

The Syrian warplane was shot down “in accordance with rules of engagement and in collective self-defense of coalition partnered forces,” the statement said.

Syria’s army has disputed this account, saying its plane was hit while conducting a mission against IS.

A US official told AFP the pilot of the Syrian plane appeared to have ejected before the jet was hit, though his fate was unknown.

– How serious is this? –

The shoot-down marks the first time a US jet has downed a Syrian regime warplane, despite leading a massive air campaign targeting IS in Syria for nearly three years.

Russia, which is flying its own air war in Syria to prop up President Bashar al-Assad, condemned the incident and said it had shut off a special “deconfliction” hotline with the US military, though top officer General Joe Dunford later said the United States was seeking to re-establish the channel.

Sunday’s incident marks the latest in a series of US attacks on pro-regime forces.

On April 7, Trump authorized a cruise missile strike against a Syrian air base in response to a suspected chemical weapons attack by the regime against civilians.

Then on May 18, coalition aircraft…

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