Updated June 9
In a media briefing, Coalition spokesperson Col. Ryan Dillon said that manned US aircraft struck two vehicles and shot down a pro-regime drone near At Tanf, Syria on Thursday, June 8.
In a statement released shortly after Dillon’s live briefing, the Coalition said: “The pro-regime UAV, similar in size to a US MQ-1 Predator, was shot down by a US aircraft after it dropped one of several weapons it was carrying near a position occupied by Coalition personnel who are training and advising partner ground forces in the fight against ISIS.”
Dillon said the drone fired on Coalition forces that were conducting a patrol with partner forces east of At Tanf, outside the 55km (34 mile) de-confliction zone, adding that the zone “does not limit us from continuing to patrol outside that area.”
The drone dropped a munition that “did not have effects on coalition forces,” Dillon said, later clarifying that there were no Coalition casualties as a result of the strike, saying: “It hit dirt.”
Dillon said the drone struck without warning, and that, to his knowledge, this was the first time a pro-regime drone had been seen in the area.
Asked about pro-regime forces firing on Coalition forces, Dillon said: “Previous strikes were on forces that were perceived as threats … [the UAV] was the first time we’ve seen them firing at Coalition forces.”
The Coalition is “assessing and identifying” who was operating the drone, where it came from and where it took off from, Dillon said. Pressed several times about who was operating the drone, he said: “We saw it as a regime drone,” and “The drone … we assess that to be a pro-regime, a regime drone.”
In a June 9 email to Grasswire, a Coalition spokesperson clarified, saying “At this time we will only say it was operated by pro-Syrian regime forces.”
Two technical vehicles destroyed
U.S. conducted strikes against two technical vehicles that we were assessed to be posing a threat to #Coalition forces at At-Tanf garrison.
— OIR Spokesman (@OIRSpox) June 8, 2017
The shooting down of the drone followed an earlier engagement in which “Coalition forces destroyed two pro-regime armed technical vehicles that advanced toward Coalition forces at At Tanf inside the established de-confliction zone,” the statement said.
“Technical vehicles” are commercial vehicles fitted with weapons.
Dillon confirmed that both regime and pro-regime forces are located to the northwest of At Tanf and that these forces are moving east.
“We assess there are regime forces inside and outside the deconfliction zone,” he said. “There is a larger force that is outside of the deconfliction zone … it is much larger than the force that is inside.”
“We still have not seen signs of them departing the area [around At Tanf] … we will continue to push to have them vacate that area,” Dillon said.
The statement said the At Tanf Garrison has been occupied by Coalition forces for more than a year and it “will not be vacated until ISIS is defeated.”
“The Coalition does not seek to fight Syrian regime, Russian or pro-regime forces partnered with them. The demonstrated hostile intent and actions of pro-regime forces near Coalition and partner forces in southern Syria, however, continue to concern us and the Coalition will take appropriate measures to protect our forces.
Commenting on the Coalition-Russia de-confliction channel, Dillon said they use it every day. “We used the de-confliction line. Whether that message makes it all the way down to the driver of the technical vehicle … I cannot say that,” he said. “Clearly the deconfliction line has not worked to prevent these mishaps from happening … we would like this to de-escalate so that we can focus on the larger threat to the region … and that is ISIS.”
The strikes come just two days after Coalition airstrikes hit pro-regime vehicles near At Tanf, destroying three and damaging others.
Last week, a Coalition spokesperson told Grasswire the presence of pro-regime forces in the area was unacceptable and threatening to its forces and the Coalition was prepared to defend itself.
The Coalition dropped leaflets in the area on May 28 warning pro-regime forces to return to their outpost near the Zaza checkpoint.