US officials say Russia, not coalition, bombed Syrian troops

US officials say Russia, not coalition, bombed Syrian troops
Russian bombers attacked Syrian regime positions in the Deir Az-Zour province, say US officials, who also pledged to investigate reports that coalition strikes killed scores of civilians in northeastern Syria.
4 min read
08 December, 2015
US officials have claimed bombing of a Syrian army camp was 'friendly fire' incident [AFP]

The United States is "certain" that Russia was responsible for a deadly strike on a Syrian army camp that Syria's government has blamed on the US-led coalition battling the Islamic State group (IS), a senior US military official said Monday.

Syria said four coalition jets hit part of the Saeqa military camp, killing three Syrian soldiers and wounding 13, near the town of Ayyash in Deir Az-Zour province on Sunday evening, calling it an act of aggression, the first time it has made such an accusation.


US military officials said radar images showed that the strikes were carried out by 12 TU-22M3 Backfire bombers that were deployed from Russia's Mozdok military base in North Ossetia.

The officials flatly dismissed claims that US-led coalition jets were responsible.

Steve Warren, a Baghdad-based spokesman for the US-led coalition, said the alliance had conducted four strikes in the Deir Az-Zour province Sunday, all against oil well heads.

"Our strikes were approximately 55 kilometres south east of Ayyash. We did not strike any vehicles or personnel targets. We have no indication any Syrian soldiers were near our strikes," he said.

A US defence official, who declined to be identified, said "We are not at war with the Assad regime and have no reason to target the Syrian Army."

Russian strikes have regularly targeted the Deir Az-Zour province in eastern Syria, most of which is held by IS, including oil fields that are a source of income for the group.

The province links the IS de facto capital in Raqqa with territory controlled by the group in Iraq.

The Syrian Foreign Ministry had said jets fired nine missiles at the Saeqa camp.

The ministry sent letters to the UN secretary-general and to the head of the UN Security Council condemning the "flagrant aggression," state news agency SANA said.

The Foreign Ministry said three armoured vehicles, four military cars and a weapons cache and ammunition had also been destroyed.

The strikes "confirm once again that the American coalition lacks the seriousness and trust [needed] to fight terrorism in an effective way," it said.

The Syrian government has only a limited presence in Deir Az-Zour province.

Civilians 'killed' by coalition strikes

Another airstrike hit Deir Az-Zour overnight, killing a woman and two of her children, activist group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights Observatory [SNHR] said.

The Observatory also said airstrikes in the village of al-Khan in the northeastern province of Hasakah killed 26 people, including seven children and four women.

It said the strikes were believed to have been carried out by the US-led coalition.

Airstrikes also hit several positions in the Islamic State group stronghold of Raqqa, killing and wounding at least 32 fighters, according to several anti-IS activists.

Media controlled by IS accused the Russians of being behind those attacks, saying civilians were killed.

The US-led coalition fighting IS said Tuesday it was "assessing the credibility" of reports its strikes killed at least 26 civilians in a Syrian village Monday.

"Every time we get information about the possibility of a civilian casualty incident, we always do a credibility assessment on that information," Warren told AFP.

"So we're in that phase now, we're assessing the credibility of the allegation, and if there is reason to believe that the allegation is credible, then we'll conduct an investigation."

He could not say immediately whether US-led coalition planes were active on Monday in the area of the alleged deadly strikes on the village in the northeastern province of Hasakah.

But that information was expected to be included in the coalition's daily after-action report on strikes, released later on Tuesday.

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The coalition has conducted strikes in eastern parts of Syria's Hasakah province, where al-Khan lies, as part of a campaign to clear IS from the area.

Coalition warplanes have been carrying out strikes in Syria since September 2014, and Russian war planes this September also began their own aerial campaign in the country in support of the government.

The Observatory said in late October that US-led raids had killed 3,276 IS fighters, 147 members of al-Qaeda affiliate the Nusra Front or Islamist groups, and 226 civilians.

The coalition has rarely acknowledged civilian deaths in its campaign in Iraq and Syria against IS.

In November, it said four civilians, including possibly a child, had "likely" been killed in a strikes in Iraq in March. And a year earlier, it acknowledged it killed two children in a strike in Syria.

'3,173 barrel bombs' since Russia intervened

The Syrian regime forces have dropped no fewer than 3,173 barrel bombs since Russian military intervention began on 30 September.

The barrel bombs killed 140 people in the same period, including 28 children and 17 women, according to SNHR.

The regime first used barrel bombs on 1 October, 2012 in Idlib province.

They are crude and inexpensive locally made bombs, but due to their indiscrimnate nature, up to 99 percent of their victims are civilians.

In the meantime, relentless Russian airstrikes continue to cause civilian casualties.

According to activist Bahaa al-Halabi, 14 civilians including six children were killed in Aleppo in suspected Russian strikes on Monday.

Hundreds of civilians have been killed in airstrikes conducted by Russia, according to monitors.

Agencies contributed to this report.