U.S. air strikes late Wednesday into early Thursday killed more than 100 fighters aligned with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, American military officials said. The U.S. jets and artillery were called in when Syrian “pro-regime forces” moved tanks and artillery and fired mortars about 5 miles east of the Euphrates River in Khusham, Syria.
The river has long been a dividing line between U.S.-backed forces and Russian- or Iranian-backed fighters of the Assad regime.
The build-up of Syrian pro-regime forces took place over the past week and included approximately 500 fighters in a large, formation supported by artillery, tanks, multiple-launch rocket systems and mortars, one official said.
After 20 to 30 artillery and tank rounds landed within 500 yards of U.S. special operations forces advising U.S.-backed forces of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the U.S. strikes began in “self-defense,” the official said.
Those pro-regime vehicles and personnel who retreated across the river were not targeted, the official added.
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Before the U.S. counter-attack began, American military officials called their Russian counterparts on a pre-established hotline to voice concern about the build-up. The Russians assured the Americans the U.S.-backed forces would not be harmed.
One official says Russian contractors may have been involved in the attack.
One U.S.-backed SDF fighter was wounded in the exchange of strikes. No American special ops troops were harmed.
The U.S. military suspects the pro-regime forces were trying to move in on oil fields previously held by the Islamic State group for the past three years, but are now controlled by U.S.-backed fighters, another official said.
The latest U.S. air strikes came more than two weeks after U.S. jets killed as many as 150 ISIS fighters in eastern Syria.