In response to the Syrian government's attack on United States-backed rebels, a USA -led coalition targeted pro-regime forces in airstrikes on Wednesday.
It coincides with heightened tensions between the United States and the Syrian government as the Islamic State war appears to be winding down, leaving eastern Syria roughly partitioned between US-backed forces and the Russian-backed Syrian government.
The advancing forces were intending to seize nearby oilfields that the US-backed rebels captured from IS previous year, Veale said.
Assad's regime has also ramped up its attacks against opposition forces, with U.S. officials accusing his forces of using chemical weapons like chlorine in recent weeks.
"Along with ground based fire support, these aircraft released multiple precision fire munitions and conducted strafing runs against the aggressor force, stopping their advance and destroying multiple artillery pieces and tanks", Lt. Col. Damien Pickart told CNN. This official added that there is no direct evidence yet that the Russians had fired on the Syrian Democratic Forces facility where the USA advisers were located. They spoke on condition of anonymity as details were still emerging on the attack.
To complicate matters, two U.S. defense officials told CNN that the USA military now assesses that Russian contractors, believed to be funded by the Russian government, participated in Wednesday's assault.
Asked whether the USA military was stumbling into Syria's broader conflict, Mattis said: "No".
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Thursday that military experts and diplomats were now collecting data on the incident and would comment later.
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The coalition said the attack occurred around 8 kilometers (5 miles) "east of the Euphrates River de-confliction line in Khusham", a town southeast of the provincial capital, Deir al-Zor.
The SDF and the coalition targeted the attacking forces with air and artillery strikes after "20 to 30 artillery and tank rounds landed within 500 metres (yards) of the SDF headquarters location", the official said.
"The coalition conducted strikes against attacking forces to repel the act of aggression" against its own personnel and the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) hosting them, it said. "Russian officials assured Coalition officials they would not engage Coalition forces in the vicinity".
Russia's Defense Ministry said the pro-government militias involved in the incident had been carrying out reconnaissance and their activities had not been previously agreed with Russian Federation.
United States military officials have told CNN that the USA has sent Special Operations Forces to partner with US-backed Syrian forces along the Euphrates River and Assad's regime has called the Syrian Democratic Forces traitors and has vowed to eject U.S. troops from the country. "We are not getting engaged in the Syrian civil war".
While the U.S. does not support groups in Afrin, they are linked to American allies elsewhere in Syria.
A US Navy F/A-18 shot down a Syrian regime Su-22 jet last June that had attacked US-backed forces on the ground. The US also shot down a pro-regime drone after it dropped a munition in the vicinity of US troops in Syria.
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