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Syria war: US coalition strikes pro-Assad militia near Jordan

Attack took place near rebel base where US and UK special forces are training rebels
The strike hit a militia which supports Syrian president Bashar al-Assad (AFP)

The US-led coalition struck a convoy of military vehicles belonging to Shia militias loyal to the Syrian government near the border in Jordan on Thursday, according to US officials. 

The strike took place a few miles away from the armed opposition rebel base in the town of al-Tanf, where American and British special forces are training rebels opposed to Bashar al-Assad.

According to a US defence official, the pro-Assad militia convoy was heading to a remote coalition garrison near the Jordanian border.

The US official also said the coalition air strike did not directly target the Syrian army but Shia militias who support the Syrian government which was operating in the area. 

"A convoy going down the road didn’t respond to numerous ways for it to be warned off from getting too close to coalition forces in al-Tanf," the official told AFP on condition of anonymity. 

'A convoy going down the road didn’t respond to numerous ways for it to be warned off from getting too close to coalition forces in al-Tanf'

- US official

Attempts to halt the convoy included a call to the Russians - who are working with the Syrian government - the official said, before the "show of force" above the vehicles, followed by warning shots.

"Then there was finally a strike against the lead portion of that movement," the official said, adding that while the convoy was "significant" in size, only the lead vehicles were hit.

The attack allegedly destroyed tanks and other military vehicles belonging to the Iranian-backed Imam Ali Brigade, according to pro-government media outlets. 

Attack after notification

Muzahem al-Saloum, from the Maghaweer al-Thawra group, told Reuters that the jets struck after rebel forces clashed with advancing Syrian and Iranian militias that were about 27km from the base.

"We notified the coalition that we were being attacked by the Syrian army and Iranians at this point and the coalition came and destroyed the advancing convoy," Saloum said. 

Earlier on Thursday, pro-Iranian government media outlets had reported that 3,000 Hezbollah fighters were deployed to the al-Tanf region to protect the area from "US interests".

Washington launched 59 missiles at a Syrian airbase after a chemical attack in Idlib province on 6 April that Western powers blame on the Syrian government. US officials have threatened additional strikes if chemical weapons are used again. 

The US attack damaged or destroyed 20 percent of Syria's operational aircraft, as well as fuel and ammunition sites and air defence capabilities, Defence Secretary Jim Mattis said of the strike on the Shayrat air base.