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Another suicide attack targets US forces in Syria

A soldier of the Syrian Democratic Forces takes cover during the fight against the Islamic State in Raqqa, Syria, in August 2017. (Morukc Umnaber/DPA/Abaca Press/TNS)

U.S. forces were targeted again Monday when a suicide bomber drove a car toward a joint U.S.-Kurdish convoy and blew it up 11 yards from a checkpoint in northeastern Syria.

There were no U.S. casualties, according to a statement from the U.S.-led coalition. One Kurdish policeman was lightly injured, according to a statement from the Kurdish-led militia group.

“We will continue to review the situation and provide updates as appropriate,” said the coalition statement.

The attack near the town of Shadidi came as the United States begins to draw down its presence in Syria and other countries step up their activity there. Israel launched a multi-pronged attack on military targets in Syria late Sunday night, several hours after its air defense system intercepted a missile launched at a ski slope crowded with winter revelers.

Israeli authorities said the missile was launched by Iranian troops stationed in Syria. It appeared to be a response to an earlier bombing of an airport south of Damascus that was attributed to Israel.

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Meanwhile, the Turkish army and the Syrian rebels associated with it, Russian-backed Syrian government troops and Islamic State all appear poised to take advantage of a U.S. drawdown.

Amaq, an agency affiliated with Islamic State, confirmed a “martyrdom-seeker” had targeted the joint U.S.-Kurdish convoy. It did not elaborate.

Though no one was killed, Monday’s hit underscores the instability of Syria, with a multitude of forces vying for control even as Israel has upped the ante on its anti-Iran campaign in the country.

The attack is the second in two weeks to target America’s presence in the country.

The first, on Wednesday, was the deadliest attack on U.S. forces since their entry into Syria’s complicated battlefield. An Islamic State suicide bomber walked into a restaurant in the Kurdish-controlled city of Manbij where U.S. coalition forces and Kurdish militiamen were eating lunch.

He detonated his vest, killing four Americans — two soldiers and two contractors — along with five Kurdish civilians and a number of militiamen.

The U.S. heads a coalition of countries against Islamic State and has worked with Syrian Kurdish fighters to claw back wide swaths of territory comprising what the group called its caliphate.

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The Kurds, meanwhile, have leveraged that support and their military victories to administer areas abandoned by the state in Damascus. U.S. officials tout them as a viable alternative to the rule of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

But that arrangement appears to be coming to an end, following President Trump’s repeated statements that he would withdraw from Syria and leave the objective of fighting Islamic State to Turkey. He has said that Islamic State is defeated, although others in his administration acknowledge that the organization remains intact and dangerous, if significantly degraded.

Trump has been unclear regarding the timing of such a withdrawal, but any pullout by U.S. forces would likely doom the Kurds’ long-term project.

Turkey, a U.S. NATO ally, views the Kurdish militia in Syria, which calls itself the People’s Protection Units, or YPG, as a proxy for an insurgent group at home that seeks an independent Kurdish homeland. Turkish President Recep Tayyep Erdogan has threatened to mobilize Syrian rebels on his side as well as Turkish troops to uproot the YPG.

U.S. administration envoys have tried to coax guarantees from Erdogan that the Kurds holding areas in northeastern Syria will not be crushed in a Turkish incursion.

The Israeli attack on targets in Syria appeared to be an escalation from other recent strikes, and was also unusual in that Israel announced it publicly, a change from its usual policy. At about 2 a.m. Monday, the Israeli army said it had “started striking Iranian Quds targets in Syrian territory.”

Iran’s Quds brigades are a unit of its elite Revolutionary Guards Corps responsible for intelligence and foreign operations.

The Israeli army warned the Syrian military against any attempt “to harm Israeli forces or territory.”

The Iranian troops are fighting a long, withering battle to preserve Assad’s government, in cooperation with the Russian military, which has become the predominant force in Syria.

On Monday, the Russian armed forces issued a statement saying that four Syrian soldiers were killed and six were wounded in the Israeli strikes, and added that Syrian air defense batteries destroyed more than 30 Israeli cruise missiles and guided bombs.

The Israeli military did not verify the claim, but army spokesman Jonathan Conricus said that several Syrian air defense batteries were destroyed alongside Iranian weapons caches, and that the missile aimed at the Mt. Hermon ski resort was launched “by Iranian troops from an area which the relevant parties” — an apparent reference to Russia —”had assured Israel were free of Iranian troops.”

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© 2019 Los Angeles Times

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.