The US has now confirmed that it was responsible for shooting down a Syrian SU-22 and the US led Coalition has now released the following statement explaining its move
At approximately Syria time, June 18th, pro-Syrian regime forces attacked the Syrian Democratic Forces-held town of Ja’Din, south of Tabqah, wounding a number of SDF fighters, and driving the SDF from the town.
Coalition aircraft conducted a show of force and stopped the initial pro-regime advance towards the SDF-controlled town,
Following the Pro-Syrian forces attack, the Coalition contacted its Russian counterparts by telephone via an established ‘de-confliction line’ to de-escalate the situation and stop the firing.
At 6:43 pm, a Syrian regime SU-22 dropped bombs near SDF fighters south of Taqbah and, in accordance with rules of engagement and in collective self-defense of Coalition partnered forces, was immediately shot down by a US F/A-18E Super Hornet.
Ja’Din sits approximately two kilometers north of an established East-West SDF-Syrian Regime de-confliction area.
The Coalition’s mission is to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria. The Coalition does not seek to fight the Syrian regime, Russian, or pro-regime forces partnered with them, but will not hesitate to defend Coalition or partner forces from any threat.
The Coalition presence in Syria addresses the imminent threat ISIS in Syria poses globally. The demonstrated hostile intent and actions of pro-regime forces towards Coalition and partner forces in Syria conducting legitimate counter-ISIS operations will not be tolerated.
The Coalition calls on all parties to focus their efforts on the defeat of ISIS, which is our common enemy and the greatest threat to worldwide peace and security.
There is much about this statement that will doubtless cause anger in Moscow and Damascus.
Firstly, there is nothing ‘legitimate’ about US or Coalition operations in Syria, which have not been requested by the Syrian government or authorised by the UN Security Council.
There is no doubt also that this statement, even if it is correct in its account of the facts, is at best a half-truth.
Briefly, the real reason why the clash today took place is because a race is underway between the Syrian government and military backed by Russia, and the various proxy forces controlled by the US, to establish control of as much of eastern Syria as they can.
In the south the US has sent forces into south eastern Syria across the border from Jordan, and has deployed powerful ground missiles there.
The Syrian military for its part, with assistance from Russia and in close cooperation with Iraqi forces, has sought to contain this advance by advancing to the Iraqi border.
In north eastern Syria the US has been supporting the Kurdish militia – which forms the core of the group which somewhat misleadingly calls itself “the Syrian Democratic Forces” (SDF) – in its efforts to gain control of as much territory as it can whilst purportedly advancing on the ISIS capital of Raqqa.
The Syrian army for its part has fought a whirlwind campaign in recent weeks, driving ISIS out of Aleppo province and pressing into Raqqa province for the first time in years, bringing it into territories where the Kurdish militia backed by the US was until recently ISIS’s only rival.
In the meantime the Russians have been complaining that though Raqqa is supposed to be under siege, a route has been left open for ISIS to send troops from Raqqa towards Deir Ezzor.
ISIS for its part has been attempting to storm Deir Ezzor for months, apparently intending to relocate its capital there from Raqqa.
The Syrian army over the last few days has also been advancing towards Deir Ezzor from Palmyra in the west. However there were reports yesterday of a Kurdish column being sent south to block its advance, presumably so as to make it possible for ISIS to storm Deir Ezzor, allowing the US led Coalition to ‘liberate’ Deir Ezzor later from ISIS.
What makes all this move and counter-move so complicated is that the fact that it is happening cannot be admitted publicly. As today’s Coalition statement shows, in theory – even as the two sides manoeuvre against each other – each of them pretends to be doing nothing more than fighting ISIS.
Thus the Syrian aircraft which the US shot down today is claimed by the US to have been bombing the Kurds, whilst the Syrian military claims it was bombing ISIS.
The US military claims that it is only interested in fighting ISIS – “the common enemy” – but it has just shot down a Syrian aircraft.
The US backed Kurds are supposed to be preparing to storm ISIS’s capital Raqqa. However they are simultaneously sending south a column apparently intended to prevent the Syrian army from stopping ISIS from storming Deir Ezzor.
In other words ISIS – a terrorist organisation which does indeed pose a global threat as the statement issued by the US led Coalition today says – also functions as the cover story each side uses as it manoeuvres against the other.
Given the complexity of this game there is always a risk that something will go wrong, which is what has happened today. However with the US and the Russians anxious to avoid coming to blows with each other, both sides also look to contain the conflict by trying to keep it within its current curious rules. Basically these are that neither side sets out to attack the other, and that whoever gains control of territory from ISIS first is allowed to keep it.
That explains why the manoeuvres the two sides carry out against each other are never spoken of in that way, and it also explains the conciliatory language (“the Coalition does not seek to fight the Syrian regime, Russian, or pro-regime forces partnered with them”) in today’s statement.
No doubt over the course of the next few hours the telephone lines between the Russian command in Khmeimim air base in Syria and the US command in Amman in Jordan will be buzzing with discussions as the militaries of the two sides search for ways to limit the damage so as to keep the conflict confined with its present rules.
What this episode however also shows is something else: that in the US once the regime change caravan gets onto the road there is nothing that can be done to turn it back even if its original destination has become beyond its reach.
With President Assad’s government backed by Russian air power firmly in control of ‘useful Syria’ – the wealthy and populous regions in Syria’s west along Syria’s Mediterranean coast – there is no longer any realistic possibility that it can be overthrown or that regime change can happen in Syria. The manoeuvres the US is engaging in in eastern Syria, even if they succeed (which is doubtful) can only provide it with stretches of empty desert and a few oil and gas fields.
In the meantime these same manoeuvres are risking a dangerous clash with the Syrians, who are backed by the Russians, and are sowing alarm amongst the US’s regional ‘allies’ Iraq (which is now de facto allied with Syria) and Turkey (which is horrified by US backing for the Kurds). Meanwhile the US’s key allies in the regime change war in Syria – Saudi Arabia and Qatar – have fallen out with each other.
It is impossible to see what the US can usefully gain from all its manoeuvres, whilst the risks it runs, and the enemies it is making, are all too obvious.
Nonetheless it seems that in Syria – as everywhere else – the US has no reverse gear.