U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power is expressing regret for the loss of life in a U.S. airstrike in Syria that may have struck Syrian government troops, but is accusing Russia of pulling a “stunt” by calling for an emergency Security Council meeting over the incident.
The U.S. military said it halted an air raid intended for ISIL in eastern Syria after being told by Russia that it might have struck Syrian government forces. A senior Obama administration official also said the United States relayed regret through Russia for the unintentional loss of life.
The Syrian army said Saturday that the U.S. coalition hit a Syrian military position in the eastern province of Deir al-Zour at al-Tharda mountain, killing more than 60 soldiers, Reuters reported. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitoring group cited a military source at Deir al-Zor airport as saying that at least 80 Syrian soldiers had been killed in the strike.
The Syrian military said that the attack facilitated a subsequent takeover of that position by ISIL, and claimed it proved the United States was supporting the terrorist group. The base is surrounded by ISIL militants and their advance could potentially dealing a major blow to a shaky cease-fire that took effect Monday. The cease-fire does not apply to attacks on ISIL groups.
The U.S. Central Command statement was issued late Saturday local time and said: “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 said “coalition forces would not intentionally strike a known Syrian military unit.”
The Syrian military called the attack “a dangerous and flagrant aggression against Syria and its army, and constitutes unequivocal evidence about U.S. support of IS and other terrorist groups… The attack also exposes the falsity of the U.S. claims in fighting terrorism.”
The U.N. Security Council scheduled a closed emergency meeting for Saturday night at Russia’s request to discuss the airstrike.
Power said the U.S. is investigating the incident in remarks made outside the Security Council chamber Saturday night as Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin was condemning the U.S. airstrike inside the closed meeting.
She also said a Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson should be “embarrassed” for issuing a statement suggesting that the airstrike indicated that the U.S. was complicit in trying to help ISIL.
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.
Russia has been waging a year-old air campaign on behalf of Assad’s forces and closely coordinates with them.
Prior to the Pentagon’s statement, Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said if the coalition attack was launched by mistake, the reason for it was a “stubborn reluctance by the American side to coordinate its action against terrorist groups in Syria with Russia.”
Under the cease-fire agreement, the U.S. and Russia would work together to target the Fatah al-Sham Front, as well as ISIL, while Assad’s forces refrain from striking opposition-held areas. Despite reports of violations, the cease-fire has largely held. However, aid convoys have been unable to enter rebel-held parts of the northern city of Aleppo — a key component of the deal.
Washington has warned Russia that unless aid is delivered to Aleppo, it will not move ahead with the formation of the joint coordination center. The U.N. has accused Assad’s government of obstructing aid access to the contested city.
The Russian military said insurgents have held up the delivery by firing on government positions along the main route leading into besieged, rebel-held districts, in violation of the cease-fire.
Meanwhile, the pan-Arab al-Mayadeen TV said the Syrian army sent reinforcements to fortify their positions at al-Tharda mountain.
Syria’s conflict has killed more than 300,000 people and displaced half the country’s population since March 2011.
Story by Xinhua, the Associated Press, and Reuters.