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U.S. warplane shoots down Syrian jet

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 19/06/2017 Jim Michaels

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Related video: US Navy fighter jet shoots down Syrian warplane (Provided by Fox News)

 A U.S. fighter plane on Sunday shot down a Syrian warplane in response to an attack on U.S.-backed rebel forces fighting the Islamic State.

It was the first time an American plane shot down a Syrian aircraft and raised concerns that the conflict could escalate and draw foreign powers further into an already complex war.

The plane was shot down after pro-Syrian forces attacked elements of the Syrian Democratic Forces, a U.S.-backed alliance of local militias opposed to the Islamic State, the U.S. military said in a statement.

The Syrian forces wounded a number of SDF troops and drove the U.S.-backed troops out of a small town south of Tabqah, a strategic area west of Raqqa, the defacto capital of the Islamic State. The Syrian Democratic Forces are engaged in a major offensive to drive the militants from Raqqa.

This US Navy photo released October 21, 2016 shows an F/A-18E Super Hornet launching from the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower on October 20, 2016 in the Gulf. A US F/A-18E Super Hornet shot down a Syrian regime plane on June 18, 2017, after it dropped bombs on US-backed forces fighting the Islamic State group in northern Syria, the US-led coalition said. / AFP PHOTO / Navy Media Content Operations (N / Petty Officer 3rd class Nathan T. BEARD / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO / US NAVY/PETTY OFFICER 3RD CLASS NATHAN T. BEARD" - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTSPETTY OFFICER 3RD CLASS NATHAN T/AFP/Getty Images ORIG FILE ID: AFP_PO93Y: This US Navy photo released October 21, 2016 shows an F/A-18E Super Hornet launching from the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower on October 20, 2016 in the Gulf. A US F/A-18E Super Hornet shot down a Syrian regime plane on June 18, 2017, after it dropped bombs on US-backed forces fighting the Islamic State group in northern Syria, the US-led coalition said. / AFP PHOTO / Navy Media Content Operations (N / Petty Officer 3rd class Nathan T. BEARD / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO / US NAVY/PETTY OFFICER 3RD CLASS NATHAN T. BEARD" - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS PETTY OFFICER 3RD CLASS NATHAN T/AFP/Getty Images ORIG FILE ID: AFP_PO93Y © PETTY OFFICER 3RD CLASS NATHAN T, AFP/Getty Images This US Navy photo released October 21, 2016 shows an F/A-18E Super Hornet launching from the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower on October 20, 2016 in the Gulf. A US F/A-18E Super Hornet shot down a Syrian regime plane on June 18, 2017, after it dropped bombs on US-backed forces fighting the Islamic State group in northern Syria, the US-led coalition said. / AFP PHOTO / Navy Media Content Operations (N / Petty Officer 3rd class Nathan T. BEARD / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO / US NAVY/PETTY OFFICER 3RD CLASS NATHAN T. BEARD" - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS PETTY OFFICER 3RD CLASS NATHAN T/AFP/Getty Images ORIG FILE ID: AFP_PO93Y Coalition aircraft conducted a “show of force,” which usually means aircraft flying low and fast or strafing near enemy forces, in an effort to scare off the pro-Assad troops.

The U.S.-led coalition also contacted their Russian counterparts in an effort to warn the pro-Assad forces to refrain from attacking the Syrian Democratic Forces.

The Syrians appeared to ignore the request and a Syrian SU-22 dropped bombs on the SDF fighters. The Syrian plane was immediately shot down by a U.S. F/A-18E Super Hornet. 

The U.S. military has said it does not want to engage in a conflict with the Assad regime and is focused on defeating the Islamic State. But the U.S. military said it would defend U.S.-backed forces when necessary.

“The coalition does not seek to fight Syrian regime, Russian, or pro-regime forces partnered with them, but will not hesitate to defend coalition or partner forces from any threat,” the U.S. military said in a statement.

Iran and Russia are supporting the Assad regime and has deployed forces in Syria.

The U.S. military has several hundred advisers operating with Syrian Democratic Forces, which it is also supplying the organization with weapons and equipment.

As territory controlled by the Islamic State has shrunk the risks of conflicts between an array of forces operating in the country, including Russia and Iran, have increased. The forces are converging in a shrinking area as the Islamic State is pushed out of its strongholds.

In recent weeks U.S. aircraft have launched several strikes on pro-Assad militias operating in southern Syria.

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