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US conducts airstrikes to support Syrian rebels

August 4, 2015

The United States has carried out its first airstrike to back allied Syrian rebel groups. The White House has warned it is prepared to take "additional steps" to protect US-trained soldiers.

US Kampfjets fliegen Angriffe gegen IS in Syrien Archiv August 2014
Image: picture-alliance/DOD/US Air Force

The airstrike by US military forces was carried out Friday to support the New Syria Force, a US-allied group, the Pentagon confirmed Monday.

"We'll take action to defend the New Syria Force that we've trained and equipped," said Pentagon spokesman Commander Bill Urban, adding that the air strike "was the first one."

A senior administration official confirmed that the United States had bombed positions belonging to al Qaeda's Syrian affiliate the al-Nusra Front in response to an attack on rebels who had received training from the United States.

The White House had previously warned Syrian President Bashar al-Assad not to interfere with units trained by the US military and said it was prepared to take "additional steps" to defend US-trained and equipped forces.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Assad's regime had not so far hampered US-backed forces, but he nevertheless raised the possibility of strikes against government troops, should the need arise.

The decision for Friday's airstrike was taken under a 2001 rule authorizing the use of military force against terror groups, which critics say has already been stretched too far.

US role in Syria 'counterproductive'

Confirmation of the attack followed criticism Monday from Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov of the US military's expanding combat role in Syria, in which he called it "counterproductive."

The United States began its first armed drone missions out of Turkey last weekend, after the countries agreed to create what has been described as an "Islamic State-free zone" in northern Syria.

Lavrov called for an end to "foreign intervention" in the Syria crisis, saying after a meeting with US Secretary of State John Kerry and Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir: "We believe it's counterproductive to announce publicly that some US-trained armed groups... will be under the protection of the coalition's air forces."

The United States has trained and equipped a number of fighters - screened and determined to be "moderate" - to operate against the jihadi Islamic State organization.

But US-backed forces have yet to play a major role in the war, but the fledgling local ground force has already suffered a series of setbacks.

A 54-strong unit fighting with other rebels has come under attack from the al-Nusra Front, with several members reportedly killed or captured.

mh/sms (AFP, Reuters)