Pro-Syria regime drone shot down after it fires on coalition

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Washington (AFP)

A US warplane shot down a pro-regime drone in Syria on Thursday after it fired at coalition forces, officials said, marking a new escalation of tensions in the war-torn country's south.

No one was hurt in the incident, which occurred near the coalition's At-Tanaf garrison close to the Jordanian border, spokesman Colonel Ryan Dillon told Pentagon reporters.

"It was armed and still had weapons on it when it was fired upon by US forces from an aircraft," he said.

Although the weapon the drone deployed had hit only dirt, the action was nevertheless "clearly meant" as an attack, he added.

At-Tanaf, on the key highway connecting Damascus with Baghdad, has been menaced by a surge of Iran-backed troops loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Coalition forces use the area -- just northeast of the Jordanian border -- as a training and staging area for attacks against the Islamic State group.

The drone was about the same size as a US MQ-1 Predator. Dillon said it was not immediately clear who owned the aircraft or whether it may have been Iranian.

"Regardless of what kind of drone it was, it fired upon our coalition forces, and therefore showed hostile intent, and it was perceived as a threat," he said.

The coalition has established a "de-confliction" zone, extending 55 kilometers (34 miles) from the garrison, in which pro-regime and Russian forces are not supposed to operate.

Dillon said the drone had fired on coalition forces patrolling outside the zone.

The shoot-down came after another incident earlier Thursday, when coalition forces struck "technical vehicles" advancing toward At-Tanaf and threatening coalition and partner forces, US Central Command said in a statement.

It was the third time the coalition has struck pro-regime forces near At-Tanaf in less than a month.

On Tuesday, coalition forces "destroyed" a pro-regime unit that was moving into the area with a tank, artillery, anti-aircraft weapons and armed technical vehicles, the coalition said.

And on May 18, coalition planes struck a convoy that had apparently been headed toward At-Tanaf.

Despite repeated communications between the US and Russian militaries, a "platoon-sized" group -- about two dozen men -- of pro-regime forces remains inside the deconfliction area and has ignored requests to leave.

"We have seen how clear we are about the threat that has been presented and posed to us, and we'll continue to push to have them vacate that area," Dillon said.

The coalition's focus remains on fighting the Islamic State group, he added, saying it does not want to battle the Syrian regime.