Inquiry blames blunders behind botched airstrikes
A US military investigation has concluded that a series of “unintentional human errors” led to a Sept 17 coalition airstrike that killed fighters aligned with the Syrian government instead of the targeted Islamic State militants.
The strike, which Moscow said killed more than 60 Syrian soldiers, prompted an emergency United Nations Security Council meeting as tensions between Russia and the United States spiked.
Brigadier General Richard Coe, who led the investigation, told reporters at the Pentagon on Tuesday that the major errors ranged from a basic misidentification of targets to “group think” during intelligence development and even a communications blunder on a hotline with Russia.
Coe defended the coalition personnel involved, saying they were “good people trying to do the right thing”. “These people get it right far more often than not, but this time they came up short,” Coe said.
The investigation threw light on the difficult and dan- gerous work of developing targets for coalition airstrikes against Islamic State in parts of Iraq and Syria where the United States does not have ground forces or reliable informants within the population to ensure its intelligence is sound.
Not wearing uniforms
The US-led coalition mistook Syrian-aligned forces for Islamic State fighters in part because they were not wearing traditional uniforms, Coe said. An early mistake — misidentifying a vehicle as belonging to Islamic State — colored intelligence that came later when it drove into a larger fighting position near Deir al-Zor airport.
The strikes included aircraft from the US, United Kingdom, Australia and Denmark, which dropped 34 precision-guided weapons and fired 380 rounds of 30-millimeter ammunition.
The mistakes continued even after the strike began.
Moscow had reached out repeatedly through a hotline to the US-led coalition, trying to inform them that they were striking Syrian government targets instead of Islamic State.
But the designated US military point-of-contact was unavailable for 27 minutes. In those 27 minutes, 15 of the strikes took place against what the US-led coalition believed were Islamic State fighters.
“This was obviously a missed opportunity to be able to limit the damage of the mistake,” Coe said, adding that the strikes would have continued had the Russians not called and eventually passed along their information.
No disciplinary action was expected against those involved, Pentagon said.
These people get it right far more often than not, but this time they came up short.” Richard Coe, US brigadier general who led the investigation