The Defense Department said today that it fired a “misdirected airstrike” that killed 18 Syrian Democratic Forces members as the partnered forces have laid siege to a key ISIS-controlled city west of Raqqa.
The Syrian Democratic Forces — an anti-ISIS, anti-Qaeda, anti-Assad coalition composed of more than 50,000 fighters, female and male commanders, Arabs, Assyrian Christians, Kurds, and other minority ethnic groups — launched the Wrath of Euphrates operation at the beginning of November. Since then, the SDF has liberated more than 5,000 square miles of territory in the painstaking push to encircle and choke off Raqqa before moving in.
This week, the SDF liberated towns on the outskirts of al-Tabqa, a city 35 miles west of Raqqa, and now have the city surrounded. That included careful fighting around a booby-trapped dam on the Euphrates.
The U.S. has been supporting the SDF with special ops support on the ground behind the front lines, equipment such as artillery systems, and airstrikes as requested from commanders on the ground. An aide to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joe Dunford said this week that U.S. special ops called the SDF “some of the best partnered forces they have ever been with.”
The SDF said in a statement today that the strike occurred two days ago and was an “error” and a “tragic accident.”
“The General Command of the Democratic Forces of Syria, in coordination with the coalition forces, will investigate the incident to find out the reasons and circumstances that led to the incident to prevent their recurrence,” the SDF said.
In a statement from Operation Inherent Resolve, the U.S.-led coalition fighting ISIS in Iraq and Syria, commanders confirmed they fired the strike south of Tabqah on April 11 that killed the 18 SDF personnel.
“The strike was requested by the partnered forces, who had identified the target location as an ISIS fighting position. The target location was actually a forward Syrian Democratic Forces fighting position,” OIR said.
“The coalition’s deepest condolences go out to the members of the SDF and their families. The coalition is in close contact with our SDF partners who have expressed a strong desire to remain focused on the fight against ISIS despite this tragic incident,” the statement continued. “The coalition is assessing the cause of the incident and will implement appropriate safeguards to prevent similar incidents in the future.”
In a briefing to reporters Wednesday, OIR spokesman Col. John Dorrian said the SDF “continue to make progress in clearing ISIS fighters from the territory and the vicinity of Tabqa.”
“Having cleared territory east and north of Raqqa… they are now nearing positions to enable their assault to liberate the city,” he said. “As they’ve cleared, they’ve repelled a significant number of ISIS attacks as the enemy struggles to slow their advance. In the last 24 hours, they’ve cleared 11 square kilometers east of Raqqah and toward Tabqa, where the enemy remains completely isolated.”
“Our partnered forces have encountered tough resistance from ISIS in the area, encountering [vehicle borne improvised explosive devices], direct and indirect fire attacks, as well as the use of human shields which the enemy continues to use to slow their advance.”