US says it may have struck Syr­ian troops while tar­get­ing IS

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - NEWS - By Sarah El Deeb

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.

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

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.

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