The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) shot down a Syrian regime fighter jet conducting airstrikes on the group’s stronghold of Raqqa on Tuesday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported. “It is the first aircraft shot down since the regime launched air strikes against the jihadists in July following their declaration of a caliphate in late June.”
Al-Arabiya (h/t Susan K) Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP that the plane was carrying out strikes on the ISIS stronghold of Raqa when it was hit. It crashed into a house in the Euphrates Valley city, the sole provincial capital entirely out of Syrian government control, causing deaths and injuries on the ground, he added. A photograph posted on a jihadist Twitter account purported to show the burnt-out wreckage of the plane.
“Allahu Akbar (God is greater), thanks to God we can confirm that a military aircraft has been shot down over Raqa,” another account said, congratulating the “lions of the Islamic State.”
The plane is far from the first Syrian government aircraft downed by opposition forces, but it comes after President Bashar al-Assad’s regime stepped up its air campaign against ISIS in eastern Syria. In recent weeks it has repeatedly targeted the group’s Euphrates valley strongholds in Raqa and Deir Ezzor provinces and jihadist-held areas of the northeastern province of Hasakeh.
U.S. President Barack Obama said last week he would not hesitate to hit ISIS in Syria. Senior U.S. officials have said that the Syrian military’s air defenses would face retaliation if Syria attempted to respond to U.S. airstrikes that are expected against ISIS targets in Syria. One official said if the Assad military were to demonstrate that it was a threat to the U.S. ability to operate in the area, it would put Syrian air defenses in the region at risk.
The United States has stressed it will not coordinate with the Assad government in any way in its fight against ISIS. Obama’s position has long been that he would like to see Assad leave power, particularly after using chemical weapons against his own people last year. But airstrikes against ISIS in Syria could have the indirect effect of benefiting Assad because the extremists have been fighting the Syrian government during what is now a three-year civil war.
Washington wants to train and equip (non-existent) Syrian rebels who are deemed to be moderate to hold territory cleared by U.S. airstrikes.