WASHINGTON — A US fighter jet shot down a Syrian warplane Sunday after the Syrians struck local ground forces supported by the United States, the first time the US military has downed a Syrian aircraft since the start of the civil war in 2011, officials said.
The combined air and ground confrontation represents a further escalation between forces supporting President Bashar Assad of Syria and the United States, which has been directing the military campaign in Syria and Iraq against the Islamic State.
An American F/A-18 warplane shot down a regime warplane south of the town of Tabqah, on the same day that Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps launched several midrange missiles from inside Iran at targets in Syria, hoping to punish Islamic State forces responsible for last week’s terror attacks in Tehran.
The Guards Corps said it “targeted the headquarters and meeting place and suicide car assembly line” of “ISIS terrorists” in the province of Deir el-Zour, where Islamic State forces surround an estimated 200,000 people in a government-held section of the provincial capital of the same name.
US officials said there appeared to be no direct connection between the two events, but they underscored the complexity of a region in which Syria, Russia, Turkey, Iran, Israel, and the United States with its allies have carried out air or missile strikes, albeit in pursuit of different and often competing objectives.
For the United States, the main focus has been battling the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL. This month Syrian Kurdish and Arab fighters, supported by US advisers and air power, began the battle for Raqqa, the militants’ self-declared capital.
In Iraq, US-backed forces on Sunday began penetrating the narrow streets and warrens of Mosul’s heavily populated old city, in the last phase of a monthslong battle against the Islamic State militants that US commanders have described as one of the toughest in urban warfare since World War II.
The assault began at dawn, with airstrikes and a push by Iraq’s counterterrorism forces into the neighborhoods of the old city. It was met with fierce resistance by ISIS fighters, according to commanders, suggesting that the battle could go on for weeks.