SOUTHWEST ASIA — A U.S. Air Force general confirmed American pilots made the call to shoot down Syrian aircraft on three separate missions this month and defended their actions as self-defense.

On June 18, an F/A-18E Super Hornet conducted the U.S. military’s first air-to-air kill involving a manned aircraft in nearly two decades when it downed a hostile Su-22 Fitter south of Taqbah.

Meanwhile, on June 8 and again on June 20, F-15E Strike Eagles shot down Iranian-made Shaheed drones over At Tanf as the unmanned aerial vehicles approached or dropped munitions near U.S.-backed forces on the ground.

“We’re trying to de-escalate,” Air Force Brig. Gen. Charles Corcoran, commander of the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing, told “We’re here to fight ISIS, but we’re going to protect our forces from Syrian pro-regime entities.”

Related content: sat down with the commander at a base in an undisclosed location in the Middle East as part of a reporting trip to observe air operations against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS.

In each of the shoot-downs, which involved aircraft from other locations, the U.S. pilots made the call to shoot within the parameters of the rules of engagement, Corcoran said. In all three cases, “defenseless aircraft” such as tankers and airlift planes left the airspace because of the uncertainty of what the Syrians or Russians would do next, he said.

Corcoran oversees the wing, which flies the KC-10 Extender tanker, RQ-4 Global Hawk high-altitude drone, U-2 Dragon Lady spy plane and F-22 Raptor stealth fighter jet to carry out missions such as air refueling; intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; air battle management, control and reporting center; ground attack; air support and others.

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