United States coalition kills 100 fighters in air and artillery strikes

Syrian fighters and their trainers attend a graduation ceremony at the end of a US-led training program | Delil Souleiman  AFP via Getty Images

The Pentagon insists it is keeping its focus on defeating IS, but Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Thursday US-backed fighters in eastern Syria faced a "perplexing" overnight assault by about 300 pro-Syrian government fighters whose nationalities, motives and makeup he could not identify.

The Syrian government on Thursday blasted deadly US-led coalition air strikes on pro-regime forces in the country's east as a "war crime".

It has since become apparent that dozens of Syrian troops were killed in the air attack and whilst numerous fallen troops belonged to the National Defence Forces (Syrian national paramilitary), others also belonged to the elite ISIS Hunters detachment.

Separately, the US -led air and artillery strikes began overnight Wednesday in Deir al-Zour province.

More than 100 pro-regime fighters were killed, the official added.

He said USA and Russian military officers spoke by telephone before and during the confrontation, and there is no indication the aggressors included Russian forces or a militia operating under Russian influence or control.

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The Democratic Syrian Forces which are backed by the United States military control the Eastern side while the regime led by Bashar-al-Assad controls the western side of the valley. Russia's foreign ministry said the USA was attempting to secure Syrian resources. Russian contract soldiers were killed in the attack.

And while the USA -led coalition mission hasn't changed and ISIS is on the run, work remains to be done, she said.

It accused the government forces of launching "an unprovoked attack on a well-established SDF position", where US Special Forces "advisors" who direct the Kurdish fighters were deployed. Additionally, Turkey has threatened to launch a military operation against Manbij, Syria, a place where USA troops do work with local Kurdish and Arab fighters. Russian Federation said it did not have personnel in the area, and its defense ministry said it only confirmed 25 Syrian militia were wounded, and no deaths.

The coalition's move was in retaliation for the pro-Syrian government forces' targeting of the US-backed forces in the area, said the SDF.

As part of that mission, the United States has armed and trained the SDF to combat ISIS.

In Manbij to the west on the Turkish border, another US military official, Lt. Gen. Paul Funk, was even more candid with the New York Times reporter accompanying him to the front, where the threat of a face-off with Turkey remained a possibility.

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