WASHINGTON — The Pentagon said Friday the air cover it provides to fighters on the ground in Syria is limited to troops that have been trained and equipped by the U.S.-led coalition to battle ISIL and does not extend to Syrian rebels focused on fighting forces loyal to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.
“We’re not at war with the Assad regime. The people we are training and equipping are pledged to fight ISIL and only ISIL, so this is not something we view as inviting confrontation with Assad in any way,” said Pentagon Spokesman Navy Captain Jeff Davis Monday.
Davis said the U.S. is simply making good on its long-standing pledge to provide support and “defensive” fire to the anti-ISIL fighters it has trained, equipped and sent back to Syria.
“This is simply us following through with an obligation we made to help defend them from other threats, and the more likely threat is probably going to be groups like Al-Nusra,” David told reporters at the Pentagon.
He did not rule out engaging Syrian government forces should they engage U.S.-backed anti-ISIL fighters: “We do recognize that many of these groups now fight on multiple fronts, to include again the Assad regime, ISIL and other terrorists.”
The Pentagon says the train-and-equip mission is designed to develop “appropriate vetted Syrian opposition forces to counter ISIL and that their role is to both defend the Syrian people from attacks by ISIL and secure territory controlled by the Syrian opposition.
Davis said airstrikes Friday were conducted to protect members of the so-called "New Syrian Forces," which are trained by the U.S. when they came under attack from what appeared to be elements of The Nusra Front, Al-Qaeda's branch in Syria.
The New Syrian Forces were “co-located” with the members of the 30th Division of the New Syrian Army, which was not part of the train-and-equip program. The attack by some 50 “hostile personnel” was repelled, and none of the troops trained as part of the new Syrian Forces were captured, Davis said.
The Pentagon won’t confirm if commanders from the 30th Division were captured.