A U.S. General says a Russian airstrike struck U.S.-backed Syrian Arab forces in Syria in the fight against ISIS.
U.S. Lt. Army Gen. Stephen Townsend said Wednesday that the incident happened Tuesday after Russian pilots began bombing what they thought to have believed was an Islamic State position. However, ISIS fighters had already left the Northern Syrian village outside the city of al-Bab and the U.S.-backed Syrian Arab Coalition had moved in.
Townsend, the Commander of Operation Inherent Resolve, said the Americans quickly got word to Russian officials and they immediately stopped the bombing.
U.S. troops were less than five miles away, but still close enough to see the bombing.
“It’s a very complicated battlefield situation,” Townsend told reporters during a teleconference from Baghdad. “Essentially three armies have all converged within same grid square. It’s very difficult and complicated.”
They are “literally within hand grenade range of each other,” he added.
The incident highlights the risk of unintended encounters between the several forces fighting in Syria. The United States’ focus is on Raqqa, the Islamic State’s de facto capital in Syria.
According to Townsend, there are an unspecified number of casualties in the airstrike.
“The coalition is encouraged by the progress against ISIS in al-Bab by the Turkish military and their opposition forces,” General Townsend said, the New York Times reported. “We encourage all forces to remain focused on the counter-ISIS fight and concentrate their efforts on defeating ISIS, and not toward other objectives that may cause the coalition to divert energy and resources away from Raqqa.”
This incident marks the second time in the last month that Russian planes bombed friendly forces near al-Bab. Last month, Turkish soldiers were bombed and three of them died.