BEIRUT: A Syrian military official said Friday that an aerial "aggression" by the U.S.-led coalition on a government military position near the border with Jordan killed several soldiers and caused material damage, a move likely to increase tension in the war-torn country.
The unnamed official's comments were carried by Syrian state TV one day after the U.S.-led coalition said a U.S. airstrike struck pro-Syrian government forces it said posed a threat to American troops and allied rebels operating near the border with Jordan.
The attack was the first close confrontation between U.S. forces and fighters backing President Bashar Assad. It also comes at a time when the U.S. presence in Syria is becoming more visible, mostly in the northern parts of the country where American troops are backing Kurdish-led forces fighting the Islamic State group.
This "flagrant aggression launched by the International coalition exposes the falsity of its allegation about fighting terrorism and undoubtedly demonstrates the reality of the Zionist-American project in the region," the Syrian official said.
The Syrian government has vowed to reach the border area with Iraq, a step that is likely to be opposed by the United States and its allies who back rebels fighting IS in the same area. A road between Iraq and Syria would facilitate the flow of assistance from Iran that is a strong backer of Assad.
The coalition said "apparent" Russian attempts to stop pro-Assad forces from moving toward Tanf, as well as warning shots and a show of force, had failed.
American officials and Syrian activists said the strike took place in the desert near the border with Jordan, although it was unclear if it struck the Syrian army or just militias allied with the government. The Syrian military official clarified on Friday that the area attacked was a military position along Tanf highway in the desert.
The region around Tanf, where the borders of Jordan, Syria and Iraq meet, has been considered a de-conflicted zone, under an agreement between the U.S. and Russia that went into effect earlier this month.
Speaking to reporters, U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said the U.S. will defend its troops in case of "aggressive" steps against them. He was asked if the airstrike increases the U.S. role in the Syrian war.
The Syrian military official said that attempts to justify this attack by claiming that the targeted troops did not respond to the warning not to advance are "categorically rejected."
The Syrian official did not give a number for how many soldiers were killed but said the Syrian army is fighting terrorism and that no one had the right to decide which areas the army can carry out operations. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the strike destroyed vehicles and killed eight militiamen.
The government-controlled Syrian Central Military Media said there is an agreement between Syria, Russia and Iran about pushing ahead in the fight against IS in the desert toward the Iraqi border. It added that "the Americans have no right to specify in which direction the Syrian army moves since it owns the land and has the right to spread the country's sovereignty on all the land."
"The Syrian army will not be prevented by any force on earth from continuing its duty in fighting anyone that tries to occupy Syria," the SCMM said. It added that the Americans asked the Russia to pressure the Syrian army to stay 15 kilometers (9 miles) away from their "illegitimate bases in Tanf."
A U.S. official told The Associated Press that pro-government "forces must now withdraw outside of the established de-confliction zone to avert further Coalition action and remove the threat to our forces." He added that forces of the U.S.-led coalition will continue to defend themselves against IS or any other threat to Coalition or partnered forces in the area.
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