A U.S. military aircraft shot down an armed, pro-Syrian government drone Thursday after it fired upon U.S.-led coalition members on patrol in southern Syria, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition said.
The incident was the first time that pro-regime forces attempted to strike coalition forces in the area surrounding al-Tanf, an army base where members of the coalition are training Syrians to fight Islamic State, U.S. Army Colonel Ryan Dillon told reporters at the Pentagon by video call from Baghdad.
Local counter-Islamic State fighters were patrolling with coalition troops about 60 kilometers east of al-Tanf base when the drone, similar in size to an MQ-1 Predator, launched a munition that failed to detonate, multiple officials told VOA.
"It hit dirt; it didn't hit any coalition forces," Dillon said, adding that the munition caused no casualties and no damage to equipment, but was "clearly meant as an attack."
Another U.S. military official told VOA that American troops were part of the targeted patrol.
The attempted pro-regime drone attack comes as Syrian Democratic Forces entered their third day on the operation to defeat Islamic State forces in the terror group's de-facto capital, Raqqa.
Dillon told reporters the SDF already have a "foothold into the eastern part of Raqqa city center."
"Our forces are making swift advances," Zagros Qamishlo, a commander of SDF Kurdish element People's Protection Units, told VOA. She added that her team had pushed one kilometer into the eastern city limits.
U.S. officials estimate that there are about 2,500 Islamic State fighters inside the city and its suburbs. Those on the front lines say Islamic State militants are fighting back with a barrage of suicide car bombs and suicide fighters.
"A group of IS thugs tried to reverse our advances but coalition airplanes came to our support," Siwar Rozh, an SDF fighter, told VOA.
VOA footage of the scene shows thick smoke has covered the skyline over the city as SDF members are trying to push down into the IS neighborhoods.
A VOA reporter who visited areas captured by SDF Thursday said engineers have started clearing mines and booby traps to fully secure the buildings.
SDF commanders told VOA they have made arrangements to open safety corridors for civilians as they expect thousands to flee the fighting.
The International Rescue Committee estimates 200,000 people are trapped in the city and are at risk of being killed by IS if they attempt to flee or being used as human shields if they remain.
According to the anti-IS Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently group, civilians also face the risk of heavy coalition airstrikes as IS tries to hide among them. It said IS has confiscated most civilian houses that contain shelter spaces or basements.
Mahmoud Bali contributed to this story from Raqqa, Syria.
Source: Voice of America