May 20, 2017 00:56 GMT by dailymail.co.uk

Pro-Assad forces attacked by US warplanes for first time

US Air Force jets fired at troops advancing on a ‘de-confliction zone’ near Al Tanf, pictured, despite previously agreeing with Russia that there would be no fighting in the area.

American warplanes have attacked pro-Assad forces for the first time to protect a base used by British special forces and other allies on a covert mission in Syria.

US Air Force jets fired at troops advancing on a ‘de-confliction zone’ near Al Tanf, where elite UK soldiers on a training mission are based.

The US had already agreed with Russia, which backs Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, that there would be no fighting in the area around Al Tanf.

But the pro-Assad convoy of 20 vehicles was deemed to ‘pose a threat to US partner forces’, and continued to advance across the desert following Russian attempts to stop it.

Defence secretary James Mattis, pictured arriving to the Iraqi capital of Baghdad in February this year, denied the attack marked an escalation of America’s role in Syria. He said: ‘We are not increasing our role in the Syrian civil war. But we will defend our troops'

Defence secretary James Mattis, pictured arriving to the Iraqi capital of Baghdad in February this year, denied the attack marked an escalation of America’s role in Syria. He said: ‘We are not increasing our role in the Syrian civil war. But we will defend our troops'

Dramatic footage captured the moment US warplanes launched an airstrike on a convoy of pro-Assad fighters as they tried to advance towards an American-backed rebel base in Syria

Dramatic footage captured the moment US warplanes launched an airstrike on a convoy of pro-Assad fighters as they tried to advance towards an American-backed rebel base in Syria

The airstrikes on Thursday mark the first time the US military has deliberately hit pro-government forces in response to a threat against Western troops.

The attack, which was condemned by Syria and Russia and which threatens to inflame the war, came as President Trump set off on his first international trip to the Middle East.

British special forces were first spotted near the heavily fortified Al Tanf base, close to the Jordanian and Iraqi borders, last June.

They are gathering intelligence, including the location of British foreign fighters for the RAF to kill, as well as training moderate Syrian rebels. Syria slammed the airstrike as a ‘blatant attack on forces fighting terrorism’ and said several people were killed. Syrian government negotiator Bashar al-Ja’afari said he had raised the ‘massacre’ committed by the US ‘aggressor’ with the UN.

The attack, which was condemned by Syria and Russia and threatens to inflame the war, came as President Trump was pictured setting off on his first international trip to the Middle East

The attack, which was condemned by Syria and Russia and threatens to inflame the war, came as President Trump was pictured setting off on his first international trip to the Middle East

Russia’s deputy foreign minister Gennady Gatilov said the destruction of the convoy was a ‘breach of Syrian sovereignty’ and an attack against Syrian armed forces was ‘completely unacceptable’.

The convoy, which included four tanks, was 17 miles from Al Tanf when it was struck.

A US-led coalition commander attempted to get the pro-Assad forces out of the zone by dispatching two US aircraft as ‘a show of force’. The jets then fired warning shots to get the vehicles to turn back, Pentagon officials said.

When the forces did not respond, but began setting up fighting positions in the protected area, they were attacked.

A member of US-backed rebel forces said the convoy included Syrian and Iranian-backed militias heading towards Al Tanf when it clashed with rebel forces.

The strike was a defensive move to protect allies, US officials said.

Defence secretary James Mattis denied the attack marked an escalation of America’s role in Syria. He said: ‘We are not increasing our role in the Syrian civil war. But we will defend our troops.’

The Ministry of Defence said the RAF did not take part in the strikes. MPs have not given approval for the RAF to strike any targets in the country except those belonging to IS.

A man checks the damage at the mountain resort town of Zabadani in the Damascus countryside in Syria on Thursday. A US airstrike struck pro-Syrian government forces for the first time, hitting a convoy in the desert near the border with Jordan, officials and activists said

A man checks the damage at the mountain resort town of Zabadani in the Damascus countryside in Syria on Thursday. A US airstrike struck pro-Syrian government forces for the first time, hitting a convoy in the desert near the border with Jordan, officials and activists said

Cars and coaches line up at al-Tanf crossing on the border between Iraq and Syria (file pic)

Cars and coaches line up at al-Tanf crossing on the border between Iraq and Syria (file pic)

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