U.S. fighter jets fired on Syrian regime-backed forces Thursday after they breached a “de-confliction zone” near the country’s border with Jordan. The airstrikes marked the first time that U.S. military directly targeted troops loyal to Syrian dictator Bashar Assad since President Trump authorized the launch of 59 Tomahawk missiles at a Syrian base in early April.
The airstrikes took place near a base used by U.S. forces to train “Vetted Syrian Opposition” rebels against the Assad regime and its allies, CNN reports. According to reports, the strikes were originally intended as a show of force to deter a 20-vehicle pro-regime convoy from heading toward the base.
The U.S.-backed coalition forces reportedly made contact with soldiers from Russia (which supports the Assad regime) through their de-confliction line to stress the urgency of the situation. But the Russians and pro-regime forces apparently ignored warnings, and the United States then hit the convoy with a direct airstrike.
The country of origin of the pro-regime convoy has not been confirmed at this time. However, Iranian media reported Thursday that the Iran terror proxy group Hezbollah had deployed 3,000 fighters to the same area. A U.S. defense official told reporters that the convoy is a pro-regime Shia militia. Other reports say that Hezbollah and Iranian forces are gathered near the strike area.
AFP reports that the U.S. military took out a “lead section” of the convoy, as American officials said the strike hit tanks, technical vehicles, and fighters in the convoy. Per the AP, local opposition groups say the attack destroyed several vehicles and caused multiple casualties. Pro-Assad outlets reported that the U.S.-led coalition hit the Iranian-backed Imam Ali brigade. The Shiite militia is known for its brutality and is accused of committing war crimes against Sunnis in its battles in Iraq and Syria.
The Iranian proxy is openly hostile to the United States, and has previously attacked American interests. Thursday’s strike marks a noticeable shift on U.S. policy in the country, which previously only primarily focused on going after jihadi groups such as the Islamic State, and not the Iran-Assad-Hezbollah-Shia militia coalition that is also operating in Syria.
In early April, the U.S. military fired 59 Tomahawk missiles at Syria’s Shayrat Airbase, destroying multiple targets, including aircraft. The news comes as President Trump is set to jet off to the Middle East for his first trip abroad as commander in chief. The president will arrive in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on Saturday. He is expected to host over 50 Muslim leaders and discuss ways to combat radical Islam.