- This while US has refused to bomb and fight ISIS
By PATRICK J. MCDONNELL AND W.J. HENNIGAN
U.S. officials Monday confirmed an expanded bombing campaign in Syria that increases the risk of confrontation with forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad, possibly drawing Washington more deeply into that country’s punishing four-year war.
The Obama administration authorized the Pentagon to use force to help defend a small, U.S.-trained Syrian rebel unit against other insurgent factions — or against fighters allied with the Syrian government, officials said.
U.S. warplanes already struck last week, bombarding Al Qaeda-linked Syrian rebels who had attacked the Pentagon-backed force.
Until now, the U.S.-led air campaign that began last August has focused almost exclusively on Islamic State, the breakaway Al Qaeda faction that controls huge parts of Syria and neighboring Iraq. President Obama has called on Assad to step down, but the U.S. military has refrained from targeting pro-Assad forces.
U.S. officials emphasized that the expanded mission was defensive in nature and did not signal an offensive push against Assad’s military, which is also fighting Islamic State. The Pentagon downplayed the possibility of a confrontation with Assad’s forces, though the Syrian air force is active in northern Aleppo province, where the U.S.-backed forces are operating.