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US deploys mobile artillery rocket launchers in Syria

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US deploys mobile artillery rocket launchers in Syria.

AFP, Washington :
The United States has deployed mobile artillery rocket launchers in southern Syria, aiming to defend its At-Tanaf base where it trains anti-Islamic State forces, Pentagon officials confirmed Thursday.
Officials would not say how many of the HIMARS units, a truck-mounted multiple rocket launch system, had been moved into the area.
But the deployment came after forces backing the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad moved into an established "de-confliction" zone close to the At-Tanaf garrison inside the southern Syria border weeks ago, creating a new threat.
The move sparked a protest from Russia, which supports Assad and said the HIMARS system would be used against Syrian government forces.
"Deploying any type of foreign weapons on Syrian territory... must be approved by the government of the sovereign country," Russia's defense ministry said.
"Forces of the US-led anti-IS coalition have repeatedly issued strikes on Syrian government forces fighting IS near the Jordanian border."
"It's not hard to guess that similar strikes will be continued against contingents of the Syrian army in the future using HIMARS," it said.
The HIMARS system has already been deployed before in Iraq and Syria against the Islamic State group.
It gives US forces a precision attack ability even in poor weather when air attacks are hindered.
It can launch six guided rockets that have than 70 kilometer (37 mile) ranges, or a single missile with a 300 kilometer range.
On June 6 the US-led coalition said it had destroyed a unit of pro-regime forces in Syria on Tuesday as they advanced near at-Tanaf.
And one week ago a drone thought to be controlled by pro-regime forces fired on coalition troops in the area before it was shot down.
Moscow report adds: Russia on Thursday accused the US-led coalition of deploying missiles against Syrian troops at a garrison in the east of the country, where rebels battling the Islamic State group are being trained.
In a statement, the defence ministry said the "United States has moved two HIMARS multiple rocket launchers from Jordan to the Al-Tanaf US special forces base."
That suggested that the equipment would be used for strikes against Syrian government forces, the statement added.
"Deploying any type of foreign weapons on Syrian territory... must be approved by the government of the sovereign country," it said.
"Forces of the US-led anti-IS coalition have repeatedly issued strikes on Syrian government forces fighting IS near the Jordanian border.
"It's not hard to guess that similar strikes will be continued against contingents of the Syrian army in the future using HIMARS," it said.
In Washington, a US Defense Department confirmed the deployment of the HIMARS system to the base, but did not say how many.
Russia has conducted a bombing campaign in Syria in support of President Bashar al-Assad since September 2015, and last week branded a coalition strike on pro-regime fighters an "act of aggression."
Last week the Pentagon credited Russia with helping to calm tensions in southern Syria after a US jet shot down a pro-regime combat drone that had fired at coalition forces.
In the first incident of its type, the pro-regime drone on fired what turned out to be a dud bomb at US-led coalition forces close to the coalition's At-Tanaf garrison near the Jordanian border.
Pentagon spokesman Navy Captain Jeff Davis said then that any escalation in hostilities between the coalition and the pro-regime forces had been avoided thanks mainly to Russia's influence.
The HIMARS system, mounted on a lorry, fires GPS-guided rockets with a range of 70 kilometres (43 miles).
Another version of the system fires small GPS-guided missiles with a range of 300 kilometres, but it is not know which type has been deployed.
AFP adds, Faced with an onslaught of weaponised drones, mortar rounds and snipers, US-backed fighters in Syria's Raqa say the cover of night is a good ally against Islamic State group jihadists.
The Syrian Democratic Forces are battling to oust the extremists from the northern city after breaking into its first neighbourhood last week.
After piercing into and taking the southeastern district of Al-Meshleb, the SDF fighters are now advancing towards the Old City.
In the daylight hours, at an apartment in Al-Meshleb, the Kurdish-led fighters catch some rest or sip tea after a night on the front line at the edge of the city's historic centre.
"We prefer to fight in the dark as we have thermal binoculars and weapons equipped with night vision scopes," says 20-year-old Kawa, giving his nom de guerre.
"There was fighting last night but not for long. The jihadists withdrew rapidly, faced with our attacks," says the cleanly shaven SDF fighter.

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