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WASHINGTON — United States warplanes attacked fighters backing the Syrian government as they moved too close to a small base where American troops train anti-Islamic State fighters, Pentagon officials said Tuesday.

The attack marks the second time that the United States has attacked pro-government forces near the base at Tanf.

About 60 soldiers with a Syrian tank, artillery pieces and anti-aircraft weapons moved into the established non-conflict zone, which extends about 35 miles around the Tanf training base near the Jordanian border, according to a statement released by U.S. Central Command. The United States issued warnings to the fighters before launching the attack because the movement was “posing a threat,” the Central Command statement read.

The airstrike destroyed two artillery pieces, an anti-aircraft weapon and damaged the tank, according to Central Command. It was not immediately clear how many of the pro-Syrian troops were killed.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has said repeatedly the United States military does not want to be drawn into a fight with any group backing Syrian President Bashar Assad. The Central Command statement Tuesday made that point again.

“The coalition does not seek to fight Syrian regime or pro-regime forces but remains ready to defend themselves if pro-regime forces refuse to vacate the de-confliction zone,” the statement reads.

Tensions between the U.S. troops at Tanf and pro-Syrian government forces backed by Iran have increased in recent weeks since members of the pro-government militia first moved toward the base in early May. On May 18, the United States struck pro-Assad forces after they had moved deep into the non-conflict zone and began apparent preparations to set up an artillery position.

Additional forces, described as Iran-backed by Pentagon officials, have since been conducting patrols just outside the non-conflict zone around Tanf. A small element of that militia moved into the non-conflict zone last week and has remained about 17 miles northwest of the Tanf base despite repeated American warnings to move.

The militiamen were not struck Tuesday, said Eric Pahon, a Pentagon spokesman. Those fighters have remained in place.

The group struck Tuesday moved into the non-conflict zone from elsewhere on the battlefield, but it appeared to belong to the same Iran-backed militia as the other fighters around Tanf, Pahon said.

dickstein.corey@stripes.com Twitter: @CDicksteinDC

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Corey Dickstein covers the military in the U.S. southeast. He joined the Stars and Stripes staff in 2015 and covered the Pentagon for more than five years. He previously covered the military for the Savannah Morning News in Georgia. Dickstein holds a journalism degree from Georgia College & State University and has been recognized with several national and regional awards for his reporting and photography. He is based in Atlanta.

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