The American commander of coalition forces in Iraq and Syria says a Russian air strike in northern Syria accidently struck U.S.-backed Syrian Arab forces and nearly bombed U.S. troops who are part of the fight against so-called Islamic State (IS) militants.
U.S. Army Lieutenant General Stephen Townsend said on March 1 that Russian planes likely thought they were bombing IS positions in villages near Al-Bab to the northeast of Aleppo.
He said the confusion came amid “a very complicated battlefield situation where essentially three armies and an enemy force have all converged” within the same 1-kilometer area.
Townshend said U.S. military advisers were about four kilometers from the February 28 air strike and used “deconfliction channels” set up for communication between Russia and the United States to warn the Russian pilots off.
He said the information quickly reached the pilots, who then ended the bombing.
Russia’s Defense Ministry said “neither Syrian nor Russian aviation delivered strikes against areas designated by the U.S. side” as locations of pro-U.S. opposition forces.
Townshend said he believes the Russians thought they were attacking IS positions in the village. But he said IS fighters had withdrawn before the bombing, and opposition fighters from the so-called Syrian Arab Coalition had moved in.