Russia Ceases Bombing US Allies in Syria After Deconfliction Call - Coalition

Mar 02, 2017, 00:13

Russian warplanes bombed US-backed fighters in several small villages in northern Syria after they mistakenly thought Islamic State forces were in the area, a top USA general said Wednesday.

Army Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, who leads the fight against the Islamic State in both Iraq and Syria, told reporters Wednesday that he believes the pilots thought they were bombing militants, not the Syrian Democratic Forces that the United States trains and advises.

Russian and Syrian regime warplanes bombed USA -backed militia fighters in small villages near al-Bab, a northern Syrian city recently recaptured from the Islamic State group, the top US commander in Iraq and Syria said Wednesday.

He referred to the Syrian forces to disclose the number and extent of the casualties.

Townsend said Wednesday that the deconfliction hotline worked to stop the bombing, and that in al-Bab different kinds of forces are "literally within hand-grenade range of each other".

Townsend said the U.S.is still talking to Turkey about whether and how Turkish forces might be involved in an assault on Raqqa.

It's unclear whether President Donald Trump will seek military coordination with Russia in Syria; his predecessor deemed it inappropriate, arguing that the Russians were at cross purposes with the U.S.by acting to prop up the Syrian government.

The incident on Tuesday marked the second time in a month that Russian aircraft mistakenly attacked friendly forces.

"Last week, we saw Turk and Turk proxy forces fighters converge with Syrian regime and Syrian proxy fighters, ISIS being in the mix there".

"That's what we should all keep our efforts focused on and not on fighting the [other] liberators accidentally - one another", he said.

"The ISIS fighters withdrew, and the Syrian Arab Coalition fighters advanced into those villages", Townsend said of the fighters who were targeted, using a common acronym for the Islamic State.

Ankara does not want armed Kurds, whom they consider terrorists, to take part in the fight for Raqqa, but US military leaders have said that they are the most reliable fighting force on the ground in Syria.

The U.S. mission strategy is to operate by, with and through local partners.

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