US planes targeting ISIS fighters in northern Syria mistakenly hit a Syrian army base killing up to 80 soldiers.
Syrian war monitors and Russian officials say U.S.-led coalition warplanes bombed Syrian army positions in the east of the country Saturday, killing as many as 80 government fighters who were battling Islamic State extremists for control of the area.
A statement from the U.S. Central Command said U.S. coalition aircraft struck near Deir Ezzor, believing they were targeting IS fighters that aircraft had been tracking “for a significant amount of time” before the strike.
The U.S. statement did not provide casualty figures. But it said “the airstrike was halted immediately, when coalition officials were informed by Russian authorities that it was possible the personnel and vehicles targeted were part of the Syrian military.”
he statement identified Deir Ezzor, about 100 kilometers west of the Iraq border, as an area targeted by coalition aircraft in previous operations. It also said coalition commanders had earlier informed Russian authorities about the planned strike.
For its part, Russia’s Defense Ministry described the coalition strike as evidence of Washington’s “stubborn refusal” to coordinate its actions with Russian forces fighting alongside government forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
It remained unclear late Saturday how or whether the airstrikes would affect a cease-fire that took effect earlier this week.
The truce, aimed at halting military operations by Syrian forces, their Russian allies and U.S.-backed rebels seeking to oust the Assad government, was designed to clear the way for humanitarian aid to besieged areas of the war-torn country. Hundreds of thousands of civilians in those areas have been cut off from outside aid for months and are facing critical shortages of food and medicine.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said his country was holding up its end of the cease-fire agreement, but he cast doubt on the U.S. commitment to the deal, saying Washington was deviating from its own call for openness.
“I don’t really understand why we have to keep such an agreement closed,” Putin said in a televised appearance on a trip to Kyrgyzstan. He also said Moscow would not unilaterally release the terms of the deal.
The Russian leader further criticized U.S. officials for their inability to separate the so-called healthy part of the opposition from what he called “the half-criminal and terrorist elements.”
“This is a very dangerous route,” he said.
The Russians have a point, but there’s a very good reason the US has so far refused to share information with Russia on rebel forces they are backing. The Pentagon is livid at Secretary of State John Kerry for not consulting them on the protocols for military cooperation. Not surprisingly, the brass doesn’t trust Russia or Assad to bomb Islamic terrorists and leave US backed rebels alone. To Assad and Putin, any rebel is a terrorist.
Before US cooperation on targeting ISIS is forthcoming, the Pentagon wants concrete proof that Russia will uphold its end of the bargain. And that’s where aid to Aleppo comes in. With the Syrian army refusing to let aid convoys into the besieged city – probably with Russia’s blessing – the Pentagon has no reason to believe anything coming out of Damascus or Moscow when it comes to military cooperation. Russia must allow the convoys access to the city as a sign of goodwill before we share any information about ISIS and other terrorist targets.
Putin seems puzzled by the fact that the state department and the White House have refused to make the terms of the deal public – for obvious reasons. As is becoming clear, we have basically allied ourselves with a man the president of the United States swore “had to go.” Assad and Putin must be taking a grim satisfaction from humiliating the US.
Kerry and Obama are far more trusting of these cutthroat regimes than generals at the Pentagon. You wouldn’t exactly describe the mistaken attack on the Syrian army a “friendly fire” incident, but it was a tragic error nevertheless.