RAQQA, Syria - Washington confirmed on Sunday that a U.S. warplane downed a Syrian army jet in the southern Raqqa countryside, claiming that the jet had dropped bombs near U.S.-backed forces.
Meanwhile, Damascus said that the plane was downed while flying a mission against Islamic State militant group.
In a statement released on the Syrian state television, the Syrian army said that the plane crashed and the pilot was missing in the first such downing of a Syrian jet by the United States since the start of the conflict in 2011.
According to the statement, the incident took place on Sunday afternoon near the Rasafah village.
The Syrian army said, “The flagrant attack was an attempt to undermine the efforts of the army as the only effective force capable with its allies ... in fighting terrorism across its territory. This comes at a time when the Syrian army and its allies were making clear advances in fighting the Daesh (Islamic State) terrorist group.”
Later in the day, the U.S. Central Command said in a statement that the Syrian plane was downed "in collective self-defense of Coalition-partnered forces," identified as fighters of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) near Tabqah.
The statement added that the “pro-Syrian regime forces" had earlier attacked an SDF-held town south of Tabqa and wounded a number of fighters, driving them from the town.
Further, it said that the “coalition aircraft stopped the initial advance in a show of force but when a Syrian army SU-22 jet later dropped bombs near the U.S.-backed forces - it was immediately shot down by a U.S. F/A-18E Super Hornet.”
It clarified that the coalition had, before downing the plane,
Before it downed the plane, the coalition said it "contacted its Russian counterparts by telephone via an established ‘de-confliction line’ to de-escalate the situation and stop the firing."
The statement added that the coalition does "not seek to fight the Syrian regime, Russian or pro-regime forces" but would not "hesitate to defend itself or its "partnered forces from any threat.”
In recent weeks, the U.S.-led coalition has escalated its aerial bombing campaign in northern Syria and Raqqa province.
U.S.-backed forces have encircled the city of Raqqa and captured several districts from the militants.
Meanwhile, the Syrian army, which has been reclaiming territory from retreating Islamic State militants in the eastern Aleppo countryside, has moved into Raqqa province and seized back some oil fields and villages that had been under the militants' control for almost three years.