The U.S. killed about 100 fighters late Wednesday in Syria's eastern Deir el-Zour province, helping fend off an "unprovoked attack" on allied Syrian Defense Forces by as many as 500 attackers, U.S. military officials said Thursday. The U.S. characterized the rare strike on Syrian government-backed troops as self-defense, because U.S. troops are embedded with the SDF in the area. Syrian state-run media said the strike left "dozens of dead and wounded," with the state SANA news agency calling the U.S. actions an "aggression" and "new massacre."
One SDF fighter was wounded in the attack, which appeared to be a coordinated assault using tanks, artillery, rockets, and mortars, a U.S. official told Reuters. "We suspect Syrian pro-regime forces were attempting to seize terrain SDF had liberated from Daesh [Islamic State] in September 2017," the official said, suggesting President Bashar al-Assad was trying to claim oil fields that the SDF's Kurdish and Arab fighters had seized from ISIS last year. The attack by pro-Assad forces was about 5 miles east of the Euphrates River, which serves as an informal demarcation line — Assad controls the western side and the SDF controls the east.
Separately, Syrian government warplanes struck eastern Ghouta on Thursday, killing 21 people and injuring more than 100 others, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said. Ghouta is a rebel-held pocket near Damascus, and Syrian activists in the area say Assad has used chlorine gas on civilians and fighters in the area in recent days and weeks, a claim being taken seriously by the U.S., United Nations, and other parties.