Russian, Syrian planes hit US-backed fighters

Posted March 04, 2017

USA forces, who were a few miles away and acting as advisers to the Syrian fighters, called in the information and the Russians halted the airstrikes, Townsend said.

"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", Army Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend told reporters at the Pentagon.

The latest near miss occurred near the city of al Bab, just northeast of Aleppo, which Turkish forces and their Syrian proxies recently took from ISIS, leaving them in a staredown with Syrian regime forces who site just south of the city.

USA forces on the ground less than three miles from the site reportedly observed the strike and alerted the Russian military through an emergency line, after which the bombing stopped, he continued.

The Russian defense ministry denied conducting air strikes but confirmed communication through the hotline.

The Russians likely believed they were hitting Islamic State targets and ceased the strikes on Tuesday once they were notified by US forces, Townsend told reporters during a video press briefing.

Earlier Wednesday, a USA commander accused Russian and Syrian jets of bombing US-backed fighters in Syria.

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Townsend may ultimately be right about Iraq itself, with little apparent need for additional U.S. deployments there right now, but it's hard to imagine that President Trump's promised escalations aren't going to involve a showy deployment of combat troops into the region, likely in Syria, to try to get some quick results. But IS fighters had withdrawn before the bombing, and members of what the Americans call the Syrian Arab Coalition had moved in, he said.

It was a situation that USA commanders have been trying to avoid since Russian Federation deployed dozens of aircraft to Syria in late 2015.

Townsend, who commands USA forces in Iraq and Syria, said these groups are "bumping up against each other" around the city, adding "three armies and an enemy force have all converged within the same grid square, so it's very hard and complicated" to know just who is where. "And we used that mechanism and it worked", he furthermore stated.

The villages where the Tuesday strikes took place were close to al Bab and about 15 or 20 km (10 to 12 miles) from Manbij city, Townsend said.

"There were USA forces in the area", he added. In early February, a Russian airstrike killed three Turkish soldiers in Northern Syria.

"We've continued discussing how Turkey and their partner forces might contribute to the liberation of the city", Townsend acknowledged. Turkey has objected to the idea, but Townsend reiterated today that the assault of the ISIS capital of Raqqa would involve Kurdish fighters. "Not every day on the ground, but daily in the air there's a deconfliction arrangement with the Russians".