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U.S. Central Command has followed through on its pledge to strike Syrian militias when they threaten U.S.-led coalition troops fighting ISIS in Syria. On June 6, coalition forces bombarded a convoy of fighters loyal to the regime of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad as it advanced on a small base in southeast Syria, CENTCOM said in a statement.
While the U.S.-led coalition is not officially at war with the Assad government, the Department of Defense has taken a more aggressive stance toward the regime since President Donald Trump ordered the launch of 59 missiles at the al-Shayrat military air base southeast of Homs.
"The Coalition does not seek to fight Syrian regime or pro-regime forces but remains ready to defend themselves if pro-regime forces refuse to vacate the deconfliction zone,” CENTCOM said in a statement.
In late May, U.S. aircraft dropped leaflets warning pro-regime militias to stay out of the deconfliction zone around the At Tanf Garrison, located at the Tanf border crossing between Syria and Iraq. U.S. and British special forces at that garrison recently trained two Syrian opposition groups to fight against ISIS.
The warning evidently went unheeded by the militias. On Tuesday, a convoy entered the 110 km-diameter deconfliction zone, posing a threat to coalition and partner forces, according to CENTCOM. The convoy reportedly included a tank, anti-aircraft weapons, armed technical vehicles, and more than 60 soldiers.
After several more warnings went unheeded, the coalition called in an airstrike, “destroying two artillery pieces, an anti-aircraft weapon, and damaging a tank,” CENTCOM said in a statement.
The strike marks the second time the coalition has targeted pro-government forces near the base. On May 18, U.S. airstrikes struck a convoy of pro-regime militants approaching Tanf, resulting in the destruction of a tank and bulldozer. The Pentagon believes the bulldozer was being used to construct a firebase on the edge of the deconfliction zone, Military Times reported.
Meanwhile, Reuters reported last week that Syrian rebels say they are receiving more arms from the U.S. and its allies to help fend off the militants, and CENTCOM told Military Times that coalition forces “are prepared to defend themselves if pro-regime forces refuse to vacate the deconfliction zone.”
Escalating tensions in southern Syria raise the troubling possibility of a full-blown confrontation between ground forces technically not at war with each other. CENTCOM, tied up in the coalition siege of ISIS’s de facto capital in Raqqa, made clear in its statement that it’s committed to avoiding such an outcome.
The dropping of the leaflets in late May coincided with the arrival of pro-regime militias from both Iraq and Syria, which have been amassing near the Tanf border crossing over the past several weeks. One group, a Shiite militia called Katib Imam Ali, positioned “a large number of forces to include tanks and technicals” just outside the deconfliction zone, according to Military Times.
The Syrian regime is backed by Iran, and the two countries are determined to open a supply corridor between Iraq and Syria that runs directly through the area where the At Tanf Garrison is located. Both of the opposition groups being trained by coalition forces there have been involved in insurgent operations in the past, making the base an even more appealing target for pro-regime forces.
“The Coalition calls on all parties in southern Syria to focus their efforts on the defeat of ISIS, which is our common enemy and the greatest threat to regional and worldwide peace and security,” CENTCOM said.
NAVAL BASE SAN DIEGO — A Navy SEAL sniper on Wednesday contradicted earlier testimony of fellow SEALs who claimed he had fired warning shots to scare away civilian non-combatants before Chief Eddie Gallagher shot them during their 2017 deployment to Mosul, and said he would not want to deploy again with one of the prosecution's star witnesses.
Special Operator 1st Class Joshua Graffam originally invoked his Fifth Amendment privilege before Navy Judge Capt. Aaron Rugh gave him immunity in order to compel his testimony.
Graffam testified that Gallagher was essentially justified in the shooting of a man he is accused of unlawfully targeting, stating that "based off everything i had seen so far ... in my opinion, they were two shitheads moving from one side of the road to the other."
Spotting for Gallagher in the tower that day, Graffam said, he called out the target to him and he fired. He said the man was hit in the upper torso and ran away.
Graffam, who joined the Navy in 2010 and has been assigned to SEAL Team 7's Alpha Platoon since September 2015, deployed alongside Gallagher to Mosul in 2017, occasionally acting as a spotter for Gallagher when the SEALs were tasked with providing sniper support for Iraqi forces from two towers east of the Tigris River.
Another SEAL, Special Warfare Operator 1st Class Dalton Tolbert, had previously testified under direct examination by prosecutors that, while stationed in the south tower of a bombed-out building in June 2017, he had observed Gallagher shoot and kill an elderly civilian.
"He ran north to south across the road," Tolbert testified on Friday. "That's when I saw the red mark on his back and I saw him fall for the first time. Blood started to pool and I knew it was a square hit in the back." Over the radio, he said he heard Gallagher tell the other snipers, "you guys missed him but I got him."
Former SO1 Dylan Dille, who was also in the south tower that day, testified last week that he watched an old man die from a sniper shot on Father's Day. He said the date stuck out in his mind because he thought the man was probably a father.
Later that day, after the mission, Graffam said he spoke with Dille about the shooting and they disagreed about the circumstances. Dille, he said, believed the man was a noncombatant.
"I, on the other hand, was confident that the right shot was taken," Graffam said, although he said later under cross-examination that the man was unarmed. Dille previously testified that the SEALs were authorized to shoot unarmed personnel if they first received signals intelligence or other targeting information.
Graffam described the man as a male between 40 and 50 years old wearing black clothing, giving him the impression of an ISIS fighter who was moving in a "tactical" manner. He testified that he did not see anything like Dille had described.
Graffam further testified that he didn't see Gallagher take any shots that he shouldn't have on that day or any other.
Although Graffam said he did not hear of allegations that Gallagher had stabbed a wounded ISIS fighter on deployment, he testified that he started to hear rumblings in early 2018. Chief Craig Miller, he said, asked him at one point whether he would "cooperate" with others in reporting him.
When asked whether he would like to serve with Miller again in a SEAL platoon, Graffam said, "I don't feel as confident about it." A member of the jury later asked him why he'd feel uncomfortable deploying with Miller and he responded, "I just wouldn't."
Graffam said he would serve with Gallagher again if given the chance.
Under cross examination by prosecutors, Graffam said he couldn't say whether there were warning shots fired that day, though Dille and Tolbert both said happened. "There were multiple shots throughout the day," Graffam said.
Prosecutors also asked him about his previous statements to NCIS, in which Graffam said of Miller that "he has good character" and was "a good guy." Graffam confirmed he said just that.
Defense attorney Tim Parlatore, however, said those statements were back in January and "a lot had happened since then." Parlatore said Graffam had also said at the time that Gallagher was a good leader.
"That part remains unchanged, correct?" Parlatore asked.
"Yes," Graffam said.
The defense is expected to call more witnesses in the case, which continues on Thursday.
US troops are using dating apps more and condoms less as sexually transmitted infections surge within the ranks
The U.S. military is seeing an increase in sexually transmitted infections such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis in part due to dating apps, according to the Military Health System.
"There appears to be an increase in high-risk behaviors among service members; that is, having sex without a condom or having more than one sexual partner," Air Force physician Maj. Dianne Frankel said in a news release.
Three Marines killed in a December plane crash are finally coming home.
Five Marines aboard a KC-130J Hercules and one Marine on an F/A-18 Hornet were killed when both planes went down about 200 miles off the Japanese coast.
A recent salvage operation of the KC-130J crash site recovered the remains of three of the Marines, who were later identified, Corps officials said.
The Air Force is investigating an airman after he posted a video on YouTube rife with homophobic slurs and insults.
A man in an Air Force uniform, identified only by the YouTube username "Baptist Dave 1611" ranted in a recent video, calling gay people "sodomites," "vermin scum," and "roaches" among other slurs, according to Air Force Times, which first reported the story Wednesday.
"The specifics of the situation are being reviewed by the airman's command team," said service spokesman Maj Nick Mercurio, confirming the incident. Mercurio did not provide any identifying details about the airman.
Two U.S. troops were killed in Afghanistan on Wednesday, defense officials have announced.
Operation Resolute Support issued a terse news release announcing the latest casualties that did not include any information about the circumstances of their deaths.