US drone destroys Russian-made tank in Syria in 'self-defense,' officials say

By Lucas Tomlinson

Published February 13, 2018

An American drone destroyed a Russian-made T-72 battle tank operating in eastern Syria on Saturday, according to the U.S. military's command unit responsible for forces in the Middle East -- which added the strike was in "self defense."

No U.S or allied troops were hurt in the incident, but three people inside the tank were killed by a U.S. MQ-9 Reaper drone, a defense official told Fox News on Tuesday.

The strike was the second by the U.S. against “pro-regime” forces since Wednesday, according to the U.S. military’s Central Command.

Crew members ride in a T-72 tank during a joint military drills of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic forces and the Luhansk People's Republics forces at the Torez range outside the rebel-held city of Donetsk, Ukraine September 15, 2017. REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko - RC1B09361E30

A Russian-made T-72 battle tank similar to the one destroyed Tuesday.  (Reuters)

The U.S. airstrike took place the same day an Iranian drone was shot down over Israel on Saturday, prompting a counter-attack by the Israeli Air Force into Syria against Iranian and regime targets. An Israeli F-16 was shot down during that mission, and it crash landed inside Israeli territory.

The T-72 tank came from the “same hostile forces” which attacked U.S. special operations troops and allied Syrian fighters last Wednesday in eastern Syria, officials said.

"The tank had been maneuvering with coordinated indirect fire on a defensive position occupied by Syrian Democratic Forces and Coalition advisers," U.S. Central Command said in the statement. "The defensive position was within effective range of the tank's weapon system. Coalition officials maintained regular contact with Russian counterparts via established de-confliction lines to avoid misperceptions and miscalculations that could endanger each other's forces."


The latest U.S. airstrike came less than a week after a massive strike killed 100 "pro-regime" forces, including what defense officials told Fox News were Russian contractors.

In that incident, U.S. special operations forces and allied Syrian fighters came under attack by a group of 500 Assad regime-backed fighters equipped with tanks, artillery and mortars.

Four Russian nationals -- and potentially dozens more -- were killed in that assault, according to the New York Times, which cited Russian and Syrian officials.

The incident took place five miles across the Euphrates River near Deir ez Zoir, which serves as a “de-confliction” line between US and Russian/Syrian backed forces.

Lucas Tomlinson is the Pentagon and State Department producer for Fox News Channel. You can follow him on Twitter: @LucasFoxNews