US-led coalition warplanes hit pro-government Syria forces
BEIRUT // US-led warplanes hit a pro-government convoy in Syria that ignored warning shots, weeks after president Donald Trump’s administration launched Washington’s first strikes against Damascus forces.
The strike by the anti-ISIL coalition came as the United Nations said Syria’s government and rebels had agreed to set up expert committees to discuss “constitutional issues” at the latest round of UN-backed peace talks in Geneva.
US-led aircraft struck the convoy as it headed toward a remote coalition garrison near the border with Jordan, an American defence official said.
“A convoy going down the road didn’t respond to numerous ways for it to be warned off from getting too close to coalition forces in Al Tanaf,” added the official.
“Then there was finally a strike against the lead portion of that movement.”
The coalition said the strike had occurred “well inside” an established de-confliction zone north-west of the Al Tanaf garrison, where British and US commandos have been training and advising local forces fighting ISIL.
Despite the strikes, Pentagon chief Jim Mattis said the United States was “not increasing our role in the Syrian civil war, but we will defend our troops”.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitoring group, said the strikes destroyed four vehicles but there were no immediate details on casualties.
The US has been militarily involved in Syria since 2014, but has for the most part avoided engaging directly in the conflict.
Last month, however, it launched a barrage of missiles at Syria’s Shayrat airbase, which it said was the launch pad for an alleged chemical attack that killed dozens of civilians.
The Syrian conflict has proved stubbornly resistant to international efforts to find a political solution, but a new round of UN-sponsored talks are underway this week in Geneva.
The United Nations said on Thursday that the warring sides had agreed to set up expert committees to discuss “constitutional issues”.
A new constitution is one of four separate “baskets” on the agenda at the talks, along with governance, elections and combating “terrorism”.
The UN-sponsored process has been somewhat overshadowed by a parallel track convened in the Kazakh capital, Astana, by regime supporters Russia and Iran and rebel-backer Turkey.
The three nations agreed earlier this month to establish four “de-escalation zones” in Syria, and are now hammering out the details of the plan.
* Agence France-Presse
Updated: May 19, 2017 04:00 AM