Russia has warned of serious doubts over a fragile week-old ceasefire in Syria after the US bombing of Syrian army positions east of the country.
In light of this, the US has offered condolences to those killed in the airstrikes and insist they were a mistake. It said it had initially targeted Tharda mountain where Syrian forces were simultaneously trying to secure IS positions overlooking the Deir ez-Zour military airport. It also says that an investigation will be conducted on the matter.
According to Russia’s military, at least 62 Syrian troops were killed in the air raid with more than 100 wounded. On the other hand, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights placed the death toll at around 90.
A statement by the Australian defense department, whose jets were part of the US-led anti-IS coalition, says it had originally intended to strike against what they believed to be Islamic State fighters.
The statement said: “Overnight, coalition aircraft were conducting airstrikes in eastern Syria against what was believed to be a Daesh [Isis] fighting position that the coalition had been tracking for some time”.
“However, shortly after the bombing commenced, Russian officials advised the Combined Air Operations Centre that the targets may have been Syrian military personnel”, it said further. The statement also clarifies that it “would never target a known Syrian military unit or actively support Daesh”.
The Australian defense department also extended condolences to the families of those killed and has pledged to cooperate with the US inquiry.
A clash of words
Meanwhile, the Russian foreign ministry issued a strongly worded statement condemning the strikes saying they were “on the boundary of criminal negligence and direct connivance with Islamic State terrorists”. It further stated that the incident was a result of Washington’s “stubborn refusal” to cooperate with Moscow in combating radical groups such as IS and the Nusra Front – now renamed Jabhat Fatah al-Sham.
In spite of the bombing, Damascus claims it has successfully taken Tharda and refuses to accept Washington’s statement about its error in judgment. A statement by the Syrian foreign ministry says its units have been continuously attacked in strikes that were “on purpose and planned in advance”.
In an emergency Security Council meeting on Saturday, the US and Russia clashed words regarding the incident, with US ambassador to the UN Samantha Power claiming the meeting to be a stunt by Russia that was “uniquely cynical and hypocritical”. She lambasted Russia, pointing out that it had blocked several UN punitive measures against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime for bombing civilians in rebel-held cities.
After the meeting, Russian envoy to the UN Vitaly Churkin expressed that he had “never seen such an extraordinary display of American heavy-handedness as we are witnessing today” in his years as a diplomat. He further claims that the timing of the strikes was “frankly suspicious” and that the ceasefire was “in serious trouble”.
In the meantime, the US has halted its operations and is gathering information to verify what had happened.