US Scrambles Jets to Syria’s Hassakeh

US Scrambles Jets to Syria’s HassakehUS Scrambles Jets to Syria’s Hassakeh

American fighter planes have scrambled to the Syrian city of Hassakeh to protect US special forces on the ground from Syrian government aerial attacks, the US military says.

The Pentagon said the Syrian planes were leaving as its jets arrived.

People in the northeastern Syrian city say government warplanes have hit Kurdish districts there for the past two days. Thousands are reported to have fled their homes. Hassakeh is mainly under the control of a Kurdish militia, the YPG, BBC reported.

Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis said that as far as he was aware, Thursday’s mission was the first time that coalition aircraft had been scrambled to respond to an incident involving Syrian government aerial bombardment. The US had no radio contact with the Syrian planes.

Capt. Davis told journalists that the US had warned Syria via its communication channel with Russia that it would defend coalition troops. He said the strikes “did not directly impact our forces” but they were “close enough that it gives us great pause”.

US President Barack Obama has authorized the deployment of special forces troops in Syria to support local militias in the fight against the self-styled Islamic State terrorist group, but he has repeatedly ruled out sending ground forces to the conflict.

In a statement on Syrian state TV on Friday evening, the general command of the Syrian Army accused Kurdish forces of “attacking state institutions, stealing oil and cotton, obstructing exams, kidnapping unarmed civilians and spreading chaos and instability”.

These actions required an appropriate response from the army, the statement said.

A Kurdish journalist who is in Hassakeh, Heybar Othman, said it was the first time the Syrian government had used air power against the city.

“We don’t have [a] specific number of casualties but approximately 12 civilian people [were] killed and more than 33 injured.”

The YPG has emerged as a major fighting force in northern Syria in the past two years, becoming a key ally of the US-led coalition against IS.

Kurds made up between 7% and 10% of Syria’s population of 24.5 million before the Syrian conflict began five years ago. Despite having some issues with the government, most Kurds avoided taking sides when a wave of protests swept the country.

When government forces withdrew from Kurdish areas to concentrate on fighting rebels elsewhere in mid-2012, Kurdish militias led by the YPG swiftly took control.