US acknowledges first deliberate airstrikes on pro-Assad forces in Syria’s 83-month conflict


UPDATE 2030 GMT: Ongoing Russia-regime airstrikes on Idlib Province in northwest Syria have taken the lives of three White Helmets rescuers — Ahmad Khattab, Mustafa Bakour, and Dirar Besserini — in an attack on the group’s headquarters in Khan Sheikhoun.

Five more volunteers were wounded.

The casualty toll in East Ghouta near Damascus since Monday has now passed 1,000 — 220 killed and more than 800 wounded.

UPDATE 0915 GMT: Syrian State outlet SANA has acknowledged the loss of pro-Assad troops, but failed to note that it was a response by the US and the Syrian Democratic Forces to an attack by the pro-Assad forces.

In a brief entry, SANA said that “popular forces” were targeted by the “international coalition”, with “scores of persons dead and others injured”.

More than 100 pro-Assad fighters have been killed in eastern Syria after they launched a large attack on the US-backed, Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, according to an American official.

After months of a frontline with the SDF in Deir ez-Zor Province, following the defeat of Islamic State units, the pro-Assad force carried out its first major attack late Wednesday and early Thursday. The assault was reportedly near the village of Khisham and a Conoco gas plant controlled by the SDF.

The US official said 500 opposing forces, backed by artillery, tanks, multiple-launch rocket systems, and mortars were involved. Later reports from the US military said the counterattack included AC-130 gunships, F-15 and F-22 warplanes, Army Apache helicopter gunships, and Marine Corps artillery in a three-hour confrontation.

A pro-Assad social media account, often promoting links with regime forces, tweeted about the battle:

An hour later, the activist changed the narrative to say the pro-Assad militias were defending against SDF “infiltration”:

The official simply said that US-led coalition and local forces repelled the assault. However, US Central Command confirmed aerial operations: “In defense of Coalition and partner forces, the Coalition conducted strikes against attacking forces to repel the act of aggression against partners engaged in the Global Coalition’s defeat-Daesh [ISIS] mission.”

The US official added, “Coalition officials were in regular communication with Russian counterparts before, during and after the thwarted attack.”

Neither the Assad regime nor Russian officials have yet commented on the incident. However, earlier on Wednesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov asserted:

It’s very likely that the Americans have taken a course of dividing the country. They just gave up their assurances, given to us, that the only goal of their presence in Syria – without an invitation of the legitimate government – was to defeat Islamic State and the terrorists.

The US has never before carried out deliberate strikes on pro-Assad fighters; however, US attacks in September 2016 —
intended against ISIS — accidentally hit Assad regime troops, killing scores.

The Islamic State was removed from all its major positions in eastern Syria, including Deir ez-Zor city, in autumn 2017 by a combination of pro-Assad and SDF offensives. As the new frontlines were established, there were sporadic pro-Assad attacks on the SDF along the Euphrates River, including at least one Russian airstrike; however, they never escalated to sustained battles.

UN Again Expresses Concern Over Russia-Regime Attacks on Civilians, as 100s Dead and Wounded in Idlib and East Ghouta

The Un has again expressed concern over the mass killing of civilians in Idlib Province in northwest Syria by Russian and Assad regime attacks.

Jan Egeland, overseeing UN humanitarian operations, wrote on Wednesday:

Russia and the regime have stepped up airstrikes on Idlib, almost all of which has been held by the opposition since spring 2015, in recent weeks. Hundreds of civilians have been killed or wounded, and at least nine medical facilities have been knocked out of service this week.

Idlib has an estimated 2.5 million residents. An estimated 300,000 have moved from southern to northern Idlib amid a pro-Assad offensive which has re-entered the southeast of the province.

A pro-Assad outlet reframes the attacks on civilian areas as “strategic and interdiction sorties” in which “Russian warplanes and cruise missile [are] targeting militant movements and gatherings”.

Hundreds have also been killed or injured in the besieged East Ghouta area near Damascus as pro-Assad forces try — unsuccessfully so far — to overrun opposition territory.

See Syria Daily, Feb 7: UN Calls for Ceasefire But No Sign of Halt in Russia-Regime Attacks

Local civil defense reported more than 20 residents killed by air and artillery strikes on Wednesday, following the slaying of 80 people on Tuesday.

“For these past two days, you can smell death everywhere,” Hamed Hassan, a resident of Douma, said on Wednesday.

Civil defense says air and artillery strikes have killed more than 250 East Ghouta residents and injured more than 1000 since December 29.