US says it may have struck Syrian troops while targeting IS
The U.S. military said it may have unintentionally struck Syrian troops while carrying out a raid against the Islamic State group on Saturday, threatening an already fragile U.S. and Russian-brokered ceasefire that has largely held despite dozens of alleged violations on both sides.
It marks the first known direct American strike on Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces. The United Nations Security Council scheduled a closed emergency meeting for Saturday night at Russia’s request to discuss the airstrike.
U.S. Central Command said the strike was immediately halted “when coalition officials were informed by Russian officials that it was possible the personnel and vehicles targeted were part of the Syrian military.”
The Syrian military said the deadly airstrike hit a base in the eastern city of Deir elZour that is surrounded by IS, allowing the extremists to advance and overrun Syrian army positions in the area. Russia’s military said it was told by the Syrian army that at least 62 soldiers were killed in the air raid and more than 100 wounded.
The apparently errant strike could deal a crushing blow to the fragile ceasefire that has largely held for five days despite dozens of alleged violations on both sides. The cease-fire, which does not apply to attacks on IS, has already been the subject of disputes between Moscow and Washington, with each accusing the other of failing to fully implement it.
“Coalition forces would not intentionally strike a known Syrian military unit,” the U.S. military statement said.
The Syrian military said the airstrikes enabled an IS advance on a hill overlooking the air base. It called the strike a “serious and blatant attack on Syria and its military,” and “firm proof of the U.S. support of Daesh,” using the Arabic acronym for IS.
A Syrian military spokesman told a briefing early Sunday that the U.S. airstrike destroyed three tanks, three infantry fighting vehicles, four mortars and an antiaircraft gun, Russia’s TASS news agency reported. The unnamed spokesman said the IS advance on the base was stopped after Russian warplanes were called in to hit IS positions.
Russia called for an emergency session of the U.N. Security Council and demanded “full and detailed explanations about whether this was deliberate support of the Islamic State or another mistake.”
Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova was quoted by the state news agency TASS as saying that “after today’s attack on the Syrian army, we come to the terrible conclusion that the White House is defending the Islamic State.”
The Syrian Foreign Ministry said it sent an urgent message asking the Security Council to “condemn the U.S. aggression,” TASS reported, citing a statement released by Syria’s SANA news. The statement claimed five U.S. aircraft took part in the airstrike.
A senior Obama administration official said the United States has “relayed our regret” for the unintentional loss of life of Syrian forces fighting the IS.
The official says the notification was sent through Russia. The official also saids the U.S. will continue to pursue compliance with the cessation of hostilities as it continues military action against IS and an al-Qaida-affiliated group. The official was not authorized to discuss the notification by name and requested anonymity.
Russian President Vladimir Putin listens to a journalist’s question during a news conference after a CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States, former Soviet republics) summit in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, Saturday.