The first American air-to-air kill in 20 years wasn't a manned aircraft
On June 8, 2017, an American pilot scored one of the first American air-to-air kill since the 1999 Kosovo War, shooting down an armed drone being used by the Syrian government. Details of what plane scored the kill and how it was executed were not immediately released.
According to a statement released by the headquarters of Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve, the drone — said to be similar in size to the MQ-1B Predator — had "dropped one of several weapons it was carrying near a position occupied by coalition personnel who are training and advising partner ground forces in the fight against ISIS" prior to the coalition aircraft downing it.
Previously, a U.S. aircraft reportedly shot down an Iranian surveillance drone in 2009 over Iraq.
The statement also reported that in an incident earlier that day, two "armed technical vehicles" were destroyed after entering a "de-confliction zone" and approaching coalition troops.
A MQ-1B Predator from the 361st Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron takes off in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom here July 9, 2008. Through the use of advanced capabilities, focused doctrine and detailed training the predator provides integrated and synchronized close air combat operations, to include intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Sabrina Johnson)
"Coalition forces have been located at At Tanf for more than a year. The garrison is a temporary coalition location to train vetted forces to defeat ISIS and will not be vacated until ISIS is defeated," the allied statement added.
This was not the first incident near the base. A statement released the day before the strike by the Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve headquarters reported that pro-Assad forces in Syria had sent troops toward the temporary coalition base at At Tanf that included a tank, artillery, and 60 personnel. After repeated warnings via an emergency communication line were ignored, coalition forces carried out strikes that destroyed two artillery pieces and an anti-aircraft gun, while damaging a tank.
A fighter with the US-allied Syrian Democratic Forces sits atop a vehicle before a battle. (Photo from SDF via Facebook)
"As long as pro-regime forces are oriented toward Coalition and partnered forces the potential for conflict is escalated," the statement by the Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve said.
Despite the incidents, the release from the headquarters did not seek a fight with the Assad regime or those backing it. However, the statement declared said Syrian army probes "continue to concern us and the Coalition will take appropriate measures to protect our forces."