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Sandro Rosell
FC Barcelona President
Monday, September 25, 2017

A US fighter jet shot down an armed pro-Syrian regime drone just after midnight Tuesday morning, as the drone advanced on coalition forces in southern Syria, military officials said.

The U.S. F-15E Strike Eagle shot down the Iranian-made drone as it approached an established coalition combat outpost near At Tanf, along the Syrian border with Iraq, where the U.S. is training local fighters to fight the Islamic State. Coalition forces shot down a similar pro-regime drone near the same location earlier this month, U.S. Central Command said in a statement.

“The Coalition has made it clear to all parties publicly and through the de-confliction line with Russian forces that the demonstrated hostile intent and actions of pro-regime forces toward Coalition and partner forces in Syria conducting legitimate counter-ISIS operations will not be tolerated,” the statement read. ISIS is an acronym for the Islamic State terror group.

The downing of the drone came on the same day Australia announced it would temporarily suspended airstrikes by its forces in Syria after a U.S. fighter jet shot down a Syrian jet, and Syrian ally Russia threatened to target planes from the U.S.-led coalition operating in the skies over Syria.

A statement from Australia's Defense Ministry said it would monitor the "air situation in Syria" and make a decision on resuming airstrikes there "in due course." The ministry said strikes in neighboring Iraq, also part of the U.S.-led coalition campaign, will go on.

The Pentagon said Sunday a Syrian SU-22 dropped bombs on coalition-partnered fighters near the town of Tabqah. A U.S. Super Hornet immediately responded and shot down the Syrian plane. There is no word on the pilot’s fate or any other casualties.

Earlier, Syrian forces attacked coalition fighters in Ja'Din, wounding a number of fighters and driving them from the town. Coalition aircraft stopped the pro-regime forces from advancing on Ja'Din. The coalition contacted Russian commanders to set up a "de-confliction line" to prevent the fighting from worsening.

The Pentagon says its actions Sunday were within the rules of engagement and collective self-defense of coalition forces. 

They added that the coalition's mission in Syria and Iraq is to defeat the Islamic State. "The coalition does not seek to fight the Syrian regime, Russian, or pro-regime forces, but will not hesitate to defend coalition or partner forces from any threat."

Australia is part of the coalition that began airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria in September 2014.

A statement from Australia's Defense Ministry said it would monitor the "air situation in Syria" and make a decision on resuming airstrikes there "in due course." The ministry said strikes in neighboring Iraq, also part of the U.S.-led coalition campaign, will go on.

The U.S. responded forcefully Monday to the Russian threat.

“We’re going to do what we can to protect our interests,” White House spokesman Sean Spicer told reporters Monday, defending the decision to shoot down a Syrian SU-22 jet that had bombed coalition partnered forces near the Syrian town of Tabqah.

“The Syrian regime … needs to understand that we will keep the right of self-defense of coalition forces aligned against ISIS,” he said. The spokesman made clear, however, that the United States would continue to “work with partners” to counter the threat of the Islamic State in Syria.

Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov called the shoot down an “act of aggression.” A ministry statement issued in Moscow warned that coalition planes would be viewed as targets, and said a hotline for preventing accidental military engagement would be shut off.

Spicer said Monday that Washington would work to keep lines of communication open to, in his words, “de-conflict potential issues.”

Earlier, General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said officials are trying to re-establish the communications link to prevent potentially deadly accidents, and that the de-confliction efforts have worked well in the past.

“The Russian Federation has indicated that their purpose in Syria, like ours, is to defeat ISIS," Dunford told reporters. "And we’ll see if that’s true here in the coming hours, because all of our operations in and around Raqqa and southern Syria are designed specifically to get after ISIS.

"We have agreed in the past, that is we and the Russian Federation pro-regime forces, that operations that the coalition were conducting in Syria were effectively degrading ISIS capability, and will work to restore that de-confliction chain in the next few hours," Dunford said.

The Russian military alleged that in Sunday’s incident, "the command of the coalition forces did not use the established communication channel for preventing incidents in Syrian airspace."

Frants Klintsevich, deputy head of the defense committee in Russia’s upper house of parliament, said the defense ministry statement does not mean there will be war with the U.S. in Syria, but rather that Moscow will not accept attacks on its Syrian allies.

Russia says it will now treat all U.S.-led coalition planes in the air over Syria, west of the Euphrates, as targets after an American fighter jet for the first time in the six-year conflict shot down a Syrian military plane. In a statement Monday, the Russian military also said it is suspending use of a hotline that that was set up to prevent any accidental military engagement.

Earlier, the Russian military alleged that "the command of the coalition forces did not use the established communication channel for preventing incidents in Syrian airspace." 

The Coalition said it contacted Russian commanders to set up a "de-confliction line" to prevent the fighting from worsening.

The dispute over the Syrian attack on the U.S.-backed fighters and the American response came as Iran launched ballistic missiles at Islamic State strongholds in eastern Syria in retaliation for a pair of attacks by extremists in Tehran earlier this month that killed 17 people and wounded more than 50.

Iran's Revolutionary Guard says  a "large number of terrorists were killed and weapons destroyed" in the strikes on Deir Ezzor province. It says targets included terror headquarters and a car bomb-making facility. Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attacks, but Shi'ite Iran also is blaming Sunni Saudi Arabia for stirring up violence.

Iran’s attack on Islamic State targets in Syria did not meet its objectives.  Of the seven missiles fired at the ISIS-held Syrian town of Deir el-Zour, only two were reported to have reached their target. Iran used seven ground-to-ground mid-range Zulfiqar missiles. These new missiles were considered to be extremely accurate. Furthermore, while the possible firing range of the missiles is thought to extend to between seven hundred and eight hundred kilometers, Sunday's missiles only travelled four-hundred-and-fifty kilometers to their targets.

According to an INN report,  the Pentagon stood its ground in response to the Russian threat  on Monday, and vowed that US pilots would continue to operate as they have and that they will defend themselves against even Russian threats.

"We do not seek conflict with any party in Syria other than ISIS, but we will not hesitate to defend ourselves or our partners if threatened," Pentagon spokesperson Capt. Jeff Davis told The Washington Examiner.

Gen. Dunford also expressed confidence that US pilots could take care of themselves.

"I'm confident that we are still communicating between our operations center and the Russia federation operations center -- and I'm also confident that our forces have the capability to take care of themselves," Dunford said.

Department of Defense spokesperson Maj. Adrian J.T. Rankine-Galloway said coalition aircraft would continue to conduct "operations throughout Syria, targeting ISIS forces and providing air support for Coalition partner forces on the ground," and that their operations would not be changed in light of the Russian threat.

"As a result of recent encounters involving pro-Syrian Regime and Russian forces, we have taken prudent measures to re-position aircraft over Syria so as to continue targeting ISIS forces while ensuring the safety of our aircrew given known threats in the battlespace," Rankine-Galloway said in a statement.

Russia, which supports the government of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad militarily, called the downing of the Syrian plane an "act of aggression" and a violation of international law.

“This, if you like, is help for the terrorists that the US are fighting under what they call their anti-terrorism policy,” said Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov.

The U.S.-led coalition, which has in recent weeks escalated its aerial bombing campaign in northern Syria and Raqqa province. U.S.-backed forces have encircled the city of Raqqa and captured several districts from the militants.

The Syrian army has also taken territory from retreating Islamic State militants in the western Raqqa countryside and seized back some oil fields and villages that had been under the militants' control for almost three years.

By: Arthur Popowitz