AMMAN/WASHINGTON, June 18 (Reuters) - A U.S. warplane shot down a Syrian army jet on Sunday in the southern Raqqa countryside with Washington saying the jet had dropped bombs near U.S. backed forces and Damascus saying the plane was downed while flying a mission against Islamic State militants.
A Syrian army statement released on Syrian state television said the plane crashed and the pilot was missing. It said the incident took place on Sunday afternoon near a village called Rasafah.
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,” the Syrian army said.
“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 the U.S. Central Command issued a statement saying the Syrian plane was downed “in collective self-defense of Coalition-partnered forces,” identified as fighters of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) near Tabqah.
It said that “pro-Syrian regime forces” had earlier attacked an SDF held town south of Tabqa and wounded a number of fighters and driving them from the town.
Coalition aircraft in a show of force stopped the initial advance. When a Syrian army SU-22 jet later dropped bombs near the U.S. backed forces, it was immediately shot by a U.S. F/A-18E Super Hornet, the statement said.
Before it downed the plane, the coalition had “contacted the its Russian counterparts by telephone via an established “de-confliction line” to de-escalate the situation and stop the firing.”
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,” the statement said.
The U.S.-led coalition, which has in recent weeks 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.
The Syrian army has also taken territory from retreating Islamic State militants in the western Raqqa countryside and seized back some oil fields and villages that had been under the militants’ control for almost three years.
(Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi in Amman and Matt Spetalnick in Washington; editing by Andrew Roche)