US says they may have unintentionally struck Syrian troops

(Associated Press)
(Associated Press)

BEIRUT (AP) — The Latest on the conflict in Syria, where a fragile cease-fire has entered its fifth day:

The U.S. military says it halted an air raid against the Islamic State group 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 that is surrounded by IS militants, enabling them to advance.

The statement says “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.”

It says “coalition forces would not intentionally strike a known Syrian military unit.”

The U.S. is not known to have directly struck Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces at any point during the five-year civil war.

A Russian Defense Ministry spokesman says 62 Syrian soldiers have been reported killed in a U.S.-led coalition airstrike on a military base.

Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov says the airstrike on Saturday took place near the Deir el-Zour airport in eastern Syria and was carried out by two F-16s and two A-10s. He did not identify the planes’ country affiliation, but said they were part of the international coalition.

Konashenkov says Syrian authorities told the Russians that 62 soldiers were killed and more than 100 wounded. He says the planes came from the direction of the border with Iraq.

Russia is a key ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government and has been carrying out airstrikes on behalf of his forces since last year.

Russia and the United States brokered a cease-fire in Syria that took effect on Monday and has largely held despite dozens of alleged violations.

Syria’s military says the U.S.-led coalition struck its base in the eastern province of Deir el-Zour, allowing the Islamic State group to advance in the fiercely contested area.

There was no immediate comment from Washington. If confirmed, it would be the first time the coalition has targeted Syrian government forces.

In a statement Saturday, the Syrian military says the airstrikes caused casualties and damage to equipment, and enabled an IS advance on the hill overlooking the air base.

The statement calls it 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 IS.

Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government views all those fighting against it as “terrorists,” and has long accused the U.S. and other rebel supporters of backing extremists.

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