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Official: Russia, Syria Mistakenly Bomb US-backed Syrian Fighters

Rebel fighters stand with their weapons on the outskirts of the northern Syrian town of al-Bab, Syria, Feb. 8, 2017.

Russian and Syrian aircraft mistakenly bombed members of U.S.-backed Syrian forces near the Syrian town of al-Bab, with U.S. troops just a few kilometers away, a top U.S. general in Iraq said.

Army Lieutenant General Stephen Townsend, the ground commander for counter-Islamic State coalition forces, told reporters via teleconference from Baghdad Wednesday that the bombing on Tuesday inflicted casualties on the Syrian Arab Coalition, a force that has been battling Islamic State fighters, in villages described as “south and east of al-Bab.”

He referred to the Syrian forces to disclose the number and extent of the casualties.

Townsend said U.S. forces were “4 or 5 kilometers away” advising “at command echelons a little bit farther back” when the strikes occurred on the villages.

“Some quick calls were made through our deconfliction channels, and the Russians acknowledged and stopped bombing there,” the general said.

Townsend told reporters that he believed the Russians and Syrians had thought that the villages were held by Islamic State forces.

The Russian Ministry of Defense, however, denied that any Russian or Syrian airplanes had attacked the U.S.-backed forces. The ministry said it had been in contact with the U.S. military before the incident and took actions to avoid the areas "pointed out by the American side."

"To prevent any such incidents, a U.S. representative gave precise coordinates of the U.S.-backed opposition forces in that area to a Russian military officer," a ministry statement said. "The Russian military command took that information into account. Russian or Syrian aircraft haven't dealt a single strike on the areas designated by the U.S."

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    Carla Babb

    Carla is VOA's Pentagon correspondent covering defense and international security issues. Her datelines include Ukraine, Turkey, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq and Korea.