U.S. Says Airstrike May Have Hit Syrian Forces by Mistake Assault on Islamic State extremists called off after Americans informed by Russia that they might have struck Syrian army instead.
U.S. Says Airstrike May Have Hit Syrian Forces by Mistake
Assault on Islamic State extremists called off after Americans informed by Russia that they might have struck Syrian army instead
A rebel fighter walks by damaged buildings near Castello road in Aleppo, Syria, on Friday. ENLARGE
A rebel fighter walks by damaged buildings near Castello road in Aleppo, Syria, on Friday. PHOTO: ABDALRHMAN ISMAIL/REUTERS
Updated Sept. 17, 2016 4:20 p.m. ET
The U.S. military said it had halted an air raid against Islamic State extremists in eastern Syria after being told by Russia that it might have struck Syrian government forces.
The U.S. Central Command statement was issued late Saturday, after Syria and Russia said the U.S.-led coalition had struck a Syrian military base in Deir el-Zour, which is surrounded by Islamic State militants, enabling the extremists to advance.
The U.S. statement said “the airstrike was halted immediately when coalition officials were informed by Russian officials that it was possible the personnel and vehicles targeted were part of the Syrian military.”
The U.S. isn’t known to have directly struck Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces at any point during his country’s five-year civil war. “Coalition forces would not intentionally strike a known Syrian military unit,” the U.S. statement said.
The Syrian military earlier in the day said the airstrikes caused casualties and damage to equipment and enabled Islamic State militants to advance on the hill overlooking the air base.
Separately, Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said the airstrike on Saturday was carried out by two F-16s and two A-10s. He didn’t specify the planes’ country of affiliation, but said they were part of the international coalition.
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Mr. Konashenkov said Syrian authorities told the Russians 62 soldiers were killed and more than 100 wounded. He said the planes came from the direction of the border with Iraq.
Russia is a key ally of Syrian Mr. Assad’s government and has been carrying out airstrikes on behalf of his forces since last year.
Russia and the U.S. brokered a cease-fire in Syria that took effect on Monday and has largely held despite dozens of alleged violations.
The Syrian military’s statement on Saturday called the alleged strike a “serious and blatant attack on Syria and its military” and “firm proof of the U.S. support of Daesh and other terrorist groups.” Daesh is an Arabic acronym for Islamic State.
The Syrian government views all those fighting against it as terrorists and has long accused the U.S. and others of backing extremists.
Meanwhile, the Syrian government said insurgents fired on routes leading into the northern city of Aleppo, endangering United Nations efforts to deliver aid to besieged, rebel-held neighborhoods. The Foreign Ministry said the government had done all that was necessary to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid, a key component of a U.S.-Russian cease-fire.
But the U.N. has accused the Syrians of obstructing aid to besieged Aleppo. No aid has entered since the latest cease-fire agreement was reached. The fragile truce has largely held since it went into effect, despite alleged violations on both sides.
Elsewhere, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry spoke by telephone about the fragile cease-fire in Syria and efforts to deliver aid to the northern city of Aleppo.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said Mr. Lavrov told Mr. Kerry Russia has coordinated the aid delivery with Syrian government forces and called on Washington to exercise similar influence with Syrian rebels.
Mr. Lavrov noted the “refusal by an array of illegal armed groups to join the cease-fire” and Washington’s obligation to “separate units of the moderate opposition from terrorist groupings.”
Meanwhile, Israel said its Iron Dome rocket defense system intercepted a projectile fired from inside Syria into the Israeli-controlled part of the Golan Heights. The Israeli military said the projectile was intercepted on Saturday. It didn’t elaborate and no injuries or damage were reported.
The Iron Dome protects against short-range rockets and intercepted hundreds of projectiles fired by Palestinians militants during the 2014 Gaza war. Israeli media reported the system intercepted a mortar round on Saturday and that it was the first time Iron Dome has been successfully used in the north.
Israel has largely remained on the sidelines of the Syrian war but has carried out reprisals on Syrian positions when errant fire previously landed in Israel.