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US ‘Regrets’ Killing 62 Syrian Troops in Errant Air Strike

US-led coalition aircraft flying a sortie in the war against Islamic State. (Photo: Day Donaldson)

Coalition warplanes flying in formation. (Photo: Day Donaldson)

A senior Obama administration official has expressed regret over a US-led air strike that killed 62 Syrian troops in what another official called an apparent “intelligence failure.”

The Washington Post reports US Central Command (CENTCOM) acknowledged the strike in eastern Deir al-Zour province, Syria was carried out by US-led forces on Saturday. CENTCOM told the Post the attack was “halted immediately” when Russia informed US officials “that it was possible the personnel and vehicles targeted were part of the Syrian military.”

“Syria is a complex situation with various military forces and militias in close proximity, but the coalition would not intentionally strike a known Syrian military unit,” CENTCOM said, promising it would review the incident “to see if any lesson can be learned.”

An unnamed senior administration official told the Post the US had “relayed our regret” through Russia “for the unintentional loss of life of Syrian forces fighting” Islamic State militants. A US defense official added the strike “appears to be an intelligence failure.”

Russian state television reports that in addition to the 62 killed, more than 100 other Syrian soldiers were wounded in the strike. In addition to US warplanes, British, Danish and Australian combat aircraft were also involved in the attack, including British Royal Air Force Reaper drones.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports that while Australian aircraft were initially involved in the strike, they were withdrawn when Russian officials advised that they were targeting Syrian government forces, not Islamic State militants. “We regret the loss of life and injury to any Syrian personnel affected,” Australia Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said at a New York press conference ahead of this week’s United Nations General Assembly meeting.

Russia responded to the attack by calling an emergency UN Security Council meeting and by accusing the United States of aiding Islamic State. “We are reaching a really terrifying conclusion for the whole world,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told Russian state news. “The White House is defending Islamic State. Now there can be no doubts about that. We demand a full and detailed explanation from Washington. That explanation must be given at the UN Security Council.”

“If the airstrike was caused by the wrong coordinates of targets than it’s a direct consequence of the stubborn unwillingness of the American side to coordinate with Russia in its actions against terrorist groups in Syria,” Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Major-General Igor Konashenkov told Russian state television, adding that the US-led strike paved the way for an Islamic State offensive capitalizing on the blasted Syrian position.

“Immediately after the airstrike by coalition planes, Islamic State militants launched their offensive,” Konashenkov said. “Fierce fighting with the terrorists is currently underway in the area of the airport where for a long a time humanitarian aid for civilians was parachuted.”

The US-led killings threaten to unravel an already shaky cease-fire in Syria. Both the US and Russia have accused each other of violating the cease-fire they brokered last week. The agreement allowed for joint strikes on Islamist militants, even though Russian forces have killed as many as 2,000 civilians in the past six months. US-led air strikes have killed hundreds of civilians. More than 300,000 Syrians have been killed and millions more have been displaced during the five-year civil war between forces loyal to longtime dynastic dictator Bashar al-Assad, who is backed by Russia and Iran, and a disparate array of rebel groups including the Free Syrian Army, Syrian Kurds and Islamic State. The US, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, France and Qatar have intervened to fight Islamic State.

 

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