PENTAGON - The Pentagon said the military launched its first armed drone missions out of Turkey’s Incirlik Air Base during the past weekend.
“At this point, no actual strikes have been conducted, but they [the drones] have begun flying armed,” Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis told reporters Monday.
Davis said the U.S. also plans to start conducting manned aircraft flights from Incirlik Air Base.
The new flight missions from Turkey’s base come as the U.S. launched attacks against non-Islamic State forces for the first time, Davis said.
He said the U.S. launched airstrikes Friday at forces that were attacking U.S.-trained Syrian rebels.
The rebels, called New Syrian Forces by Washington, were trained by the coalition to fight the Islamic State militant group.
The U.S. had vowed to protect these trained Syrian rebels against a broad range of threats when they returned to their home country.
The Pentagon spokesman said the attackers look “an awful lot like Nusra,” referring to the al-Qaida affiliate in Syria known as the al-Nusra Front.
He told VOA the attackers' affiliation has not been confirmed at this time, but that the U.S. did not believe they were Syrian government fighters.
“We are not at war with the Assad regime,” Davis said, referring to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government. “We have no reason to believe that the people who we engaged with, who engaged the forces friendly to us on Friday were associated with the regime.”
However, the White House on Monday warned the Syrian regime not to impede their actions.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Syria "should not interfere" with operations by U.S.-trained forces.
Earnest said that Assad has so far complied with U.S. demands but that does not mean he is regarded as "an ally in our fight" against the Islamic State group.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that any U.S. military strikes against the Syrian government army would complicate attempts to fight Islamic State and other groups.
Lavrov's comments came after he met with Secretary of State John Kerry and Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir in Qatar on Monday.
He said the U.S. move "represents an obstacle on the road to forming a united front to fight terrorism, including Islamic State and al-Nusra Front."
A senior U.S. official said that in their meeting, the ministers "acknowledged the need for a political solution to the conflict and the important role to be played by opposition groups in reaching that solution."
During the meeting, Kerry made clear that Assad's brutality on his own people has helped permit the terrorist group to attract foreign fighters and sustain itself in Syria.