American commanders in Syria followed through on pledges to destroy anti-aircraft systems and heavy weapons captured by Islamic State in Palmyra, launching multiple airstrikes against the terror group’s positions around the ancient Syrian city.
Over a dozen U.S. and coalition warplanes destroyed 14 Syrian tanks, three heavy artillery systems and one anti-aircraft artillery emplacement, according to a command statement by U.S. and coalition officials on Friday.
“We will not allow [the Islamic State] to maintain capabilities that threaten Coalition or partner forces,” Air Force Col. John Dorrian, the top U.S. spokesman in Iraq, said in the statement.
However, American and coalition fighters did not target the Russian-made Syrian SA-3 anti-aircraft missile system taken as part of the weapons cache seized in Palmyra after Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, captured the city.
The weapon remains in place near the Syrian air force base in Tiyas, roughly 40 miles west of Palmyra, a U.S. defense official told The Washington Times.
Currently, Islamic State fighters have surrounded Syrian troops who retreated to the air base from Palmyra and are close to overrunning the facility, according to the official.
U.S. commanders continue to track the weapon’s location, but have refrained from launching strikes against the missile site since it has yet to pose an imminent threat to coalition aircraft.
The antiquated Russian design of the weapon cannot deny Syrian airspace of any significant size to U.S. and coalition warplanes, compared to Russia’s more advanced S-400 anti-aircraft missile system, the official said.
It also remains unclear whether Islamic State fighters have the technical know-how to operate the weapon with any accuracy or consistency, the official added, noting should the group attempt to move the weapon to bolster the group’s defenses around the Islamic State’s self-styled capital of Raqqa, American forces would intervene immediately.
Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, told reporters at the Pentagon Wednesday that Russian fighters and bombers would take out any surface-to-air missile system the Islamic State may have at Palmyra, noting the weapon poses just as much threat to Moscow’s forces as it does to the coalition.
“I expect that the Russians and the regime will address it here in short order. We’re watching that, [but] as soon as we have an opportunity, if the Russians [don’t], we will,” he said at the time.