…As France’s Macron threatens Syria strikes if chemical weapon use proven***
A U.S. airstrike in Syria destroyed a Russian-made tank operated by forces loyal to the Syrian government over the weekend, the second time pro-regime elements clashed with the U.S. military in three days, U.S. military officials said.
Pro-regime forces began advancing toward the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and their U.S. advisers near Al Tabiyeh, Syria, on Saturday, firing mortars and small-arms as they moved.
The coalition contacted Russian counterparts via the telephone deconfliction line before striking the T-72 tank, according to a coalition spokesperson, Col. Ryan Dillon.
“The tank had been maneuvering with coordinated indirect fire on a defensive position occupied by Syrian Democratic Forces and coalition advisers,” Dillon said. “The defensive position was within effective range of the hostile weapons systems.”
The tank was not firing on the SDF and the coalition, Dillon said, explaining that other elements in the formation were firing. There were no coalition or SDF casualties, Dillon said.
A Pentagon official said it was an MQ-9 Reaper that struck the tank with a precision-guided munition.
In the meantime, French President Emmanuel Macron has threatened to “strike” Syria if proof emerges that its government is using chemical weapons against civilians.
“We will strike the place where these launches are made or where they are organised,” he told reporters.
But Mr Macron said French intelligence had so far found no evidence that banned chemical weapons had been used.
His comments follow numerous reports of suspected chlorine attacks in Syria since early January.
Nine people were treated for breathing difficulties after a bomb believed to be filled with the chemical was dropped on a rebel-held town earlier this month.
The Syrian opposition said a government helicopter dropped the bomb on Saraqeb, in the north-western province of Idlib.
The Syrian government strongly denies using chemical weapons and says it does not target civilians.
Speaking in Paris on Tuesday, Mr Macron reaffirmed his stance that the use of chemical weapons represented a “red line” for his government.
“Today, our agencies, our armed forces, have not established that chemical weapons, as set out in treaties, have been used against the civilian population,” he said.
“As soon as such proof is established, I will do what I said. The priority is the fight against the terrorists.”
Last year, Mr Macron told Russian President Vladimir Putin that the use of chemical weapons in Syria would be a “red line” that would draw an “immediate response” from France.
NBC with additional report from BBC