SYDNEY - Australia has expressed deep regret for its part in a botched airstrike in Syria that killed scores of Syrian government soldiers and endangered the fragile ceasefire in the region. The attack was led by the U.S. military that said the coalition believed it was targeting positions of the so-called Islamic State.
The Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said he regretted the loss of life and injury but will not speculate about why the air strike in eastern Syria went so badly wrong. It is reported that up to 90 Syrian government soldiers were mistakenly killed during the raid near a military airport.
Australian defense officials have said the coalition operation was targeting what was thought to have been an Islamic State fighting unit it had been tracking for some time.
Speaking in New York, where he is attending the United Nations’ General assembly, Turnbull told reporters the airstrikes were aborted as soon as the mistake came to light.
“There were Australian aircraft involved in the operation. As soon as the commanders were advised that there were Syrian government forces affected the operation was discontinued and we regret the loss of life,” said Turnbull.
The strikes, which were abandoned when Russian forces notified the Americans, have increased tensions in a complex conflict. Analysts believe the botched raid will strain relations between Washington and Moscow, which have vastly different agendas in Syria.
Canberra has deployed six warplanes to the U.S.-led mission in Iraq and Syria, where it began bombing militant positions a year ago.
Official defense department figures show Australian fighter jets have carried out 1,689 missions over Iraq and 42 over Syria.
Australia's Air Task Group also includes an early warning aircraft and a transporter.