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US warns Assad after air strikes near its Syria base: we will defend ourselves


A US military commander warned President Bashar al-Assad’s forces “we will defend ourselves” after Syrian warplanes bombed near an American special forces’ base.
The US scrambled jets to protect its troops after the Syrian warplanes for the first time targeted Kurdish armed groups Washington is supporting on the ground.
The incident, which took place last Thursday over the northeastern city of Hasakah, brought American aircraft the closest they have come to opening fire on regime jets in the crowded skies above Syria.
Lt Gen. Stephen Townsend, who leads US forces in Syria and Iraq, said he had voiced his concerns about the incident.
“We’ve informed the Russians where we’re at … [they] tell us they’ve informed the Syrians, and I’d just say that we will defend ourselves if we feel threatened,” Lt Gen. Townsend said, becoming the first senior military commander to speak on the record about the US possibly challenging the Syrian Air Force.
Pro-government troops and Kurdish forces have largely left one another alone in northern Syria, but fighting flared last week in the battle for control of Hasakah.
As many as 300 US troops are stationed near the city, training and advising the Kurdish YPG militia in its fight against the Islamist State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil).
But the YPG launched a major assault against the regime on Monday to seize the last government-held parts.
The YPG is at the heart of a US-led campaign against the Isil, bringing the US into more direct confrontation with the government and threatening to open up yet another front in the multi-sided five-year conflict.
The battle could also prove decisive for Assad, who has lost control of most of northern Syria, with the exception of the western half of Aleppo which is now looking under serious threat.
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