US general: Russian warplanes accidentally bombed US-backed rebels in Syria
WASHINGTON — Russian and Syrian regime warplanes bombed U.S.-backed militia fighters in small villages near al-Bab, a northern Syrian city recently recaptured from the Islamic State group, the top U.S. commander in Iraq and Syria said Wednesday.
The targeting of the Syrian Arab Coalition in the hamlets to the south and east of al-Bab on Tuesday appeared unintentional and quickly ceased, once nearby U.S. troops alerted the Russians about which group had been hit, said Army Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, the commander of the Operation Inherent Resolve coalition. The Syrian Arab Coalition makes up about 60 percent of the Syrian Democratic Forces – the United States’ proxy force fighting the Islamic State group in Syria.
“I believe [the Russians and Syrians] thought [those villages] were held by [the Islamic State group], but who was actually on the ground were some of our Syrian Arab Coalition force,” Townsend told reporters at the Pentagon in a briefing from his headquarters in Baghdad. “As the regime and [Turkish forces] advanced on those villages, the [Islamic State group] fighters withdrew and the Syrian Arab Coalition fighters advanced into those villages.”
Townsend said the Syrian Arab Coalition forces suffered casualties in the attacks, but he did not say whether anyone was killed or how many fighters were injured.
The apparent mix-up highlights the complicated fight in Syria. Forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad have been battling rebel groups for nearly six years and since September 2015 have been backed by Russian air power. Since 2014, U.S.-backed forces – and more recently Turkish military forces – have been targeting the Islamic State group, which has steadily ceded ground across northern and eastern Syria.
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