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A fighter of the Syrian Democratic Forces stands in an an empty street on the outskirts of Raqqa in October. Photo: Chris McGrath / Getty Images

The United States and Syrian Democratic Forces coalition engaged in "a combination of air and artillery strikes" against pro-regime forces in Syria late Wednesday night, after an "unprovoked" attack, Col. Thomas F. Veale, CJTF-OIR Public Affairs Officer, told Axios.

The bottom line: This is a rare response from the U.S. in a conflict zone that has seen escalation in recent months. The Washington Post reported that the beginning of 2018 has been "one of the bloodiest periods of the conflict yet."

"We suspect Syrian pro-regime forces were attempting to seize terrain SDF had liberated from Daesh in September 2017...The Syrian Democratic Forces have been instrumental in accelerated successes against Daesh, and continue to demonstrate the ethics and capabilities of a professional fighting force."
— Col. Thomas F. Veale told Axios
  • Hussein Ibish, senior resident scholar at the Gulf States Institute, told Axios: "The US airstrike on pro-regime forces indicates that Washington is being drawn more deeply into the Syrian conflict, despite a continued reticence in much of the government and policy-making circles about the wisdom of that."

What happened: Veale said in an email that pro-regime forces attacked SDF around "8 kilometers east of the Euphrates River deconfliction line in Khusham." The U.S. and Russia agreed in August that the Euphrates River would stand as a deconfliction line; Russia and pro-regime forces would operate on the west side, while the U.S.-led coalition would operate on the east. To cross the river, both sides must agree.

  • But, but, but: Veale said "Coalition officials were in regular communication with Russian counterparts before, during and after the thwarted PRF attack. Russian officials assured Coalition officials they would not engage Coalition forces in the vicinity."
  • Chief Pentagon Spokesperson Dana White said at a briefing on Thursday that the deconfliction line worked but would not speculate on the composition of the attacking force.

The response:

  • The Russian Defense Ministry said the strike demonstrated the U.S. wasn't interested in fighting ISIS, but seeking to "seize and hold Syrian economic assets," the AP reports.
  • ABC reports that Syria's foreign ministry said the strikes reveal "dirty U.S. intentions against Syria's sovereignty and territorial unity."

Go deeper

Updated 1 hour ago - Economy & Business

Tax season nightmare ahead for understaffed IRS

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

The IRS will start accepting 2021 tax returns in less than a week, and the filing delays and administrative headaches to come might eclipse last year — which was “one of the worst filing seasons," according to an independent advocacy agency within the IRS.

Why it matters: For taxpayers, especially with complex or paper filings, this means headaches, delayed refunds, and mistakes.

China builds its own movie empire

Expand chart
Data: Gower Street citing Comscore; Chart: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

China blocked all four of Disney's Marvel movies from being released in its theaters last year, a grim sign for U.S. film giants being squeezed out of the world's fastest-growing box office.

Why it matters: The Chinese Communist Party is using domestic films as a key conduit for mass messaging aimed at achieving political goals, leaving little room for foreign views.

Why 401(k) rollovers are so annoying

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

If you happened to change jobs recently, you may have tried to transfer your retirement account from your former employer into an Individual Retirement Account or your new employer's 401(k) plan. If so, you probably encountered a bureaucratic gantlet — and you're not alone.

Why it matters: Kludgey processes around retirement account transfers result in people losing track of their funds, giving up important tax advantages, or otherwise disadvantaging themselves and being less prepared for retirement.