US reviewing whether strike killed Syrian forces

US reviewing whether strike killed Syrian forces
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The U.S. military has appointed a brigadier general to review whether coalition forces accidentally struck Syrian military forces over the weekend, a defense official said Monday. 

The appointment indicates how seriously the U.S. military is taking the allegations, which threaten to unravel potential U.S. military cooperation with Russia in Syria.  

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Officials have not yet confirmed whether the strike, which was intended for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), actually hit any Syrian forces, but officials say one factor they are looking into is whether they were "easily identifiable as Syrian government forces."

"We're still in the relatively early stages of determining what happened in this instance. It is premature to say we have any real clarity with what we will conclude contributed to the situation," the official told The Hill. 

But the official added, "Clearly one of the factors that might be at play here is whether the forces were easily identifiable as Syrian government forces." 

Officials are looking into whether the Saturday strike — which was carried out by the U.S.-led coalition in Deir Ezzor — might have accidentally hit Syrian prisoners or conscripts forced to fight, according to multiple reports. 

Another defense official told The Hill that if the U.S. knew that to be case, the strike would not have been carried out.

"Clearly, it would not be the practice of the United States [to say] those are Syrian forces, but they are prisoners, so it's OK to hit them. The United States would not intend to hit forces affiliated with the Syrian government, whatever their status," the official said.  

Russian officials claim the airstrike killed at least 62 people and injured 100 more.  

Centcom did acknowledge Saturday the coalition had halted an airstrike in progress in Deir Ezzor, Syria, after receiving reports from Russian counterparts that it had struck Syrian regime forces instead.  

"It's not normally something that happens in the middle of a strike," a Centcom official said.

Centcom said it had informed the Russians — who are allied with the Syrian regime against opposition forces — of the strike beforehand. 

Coalition members Britain, Denmark, and Australia have also acknowledged participating in the strike and have expressed remorse. 

Russian officials said the strike showed the need for U.S.-Russian military cooperation against targets in Syria, which the U.S. had agreed to if a current cessation of hostilities held for seven continuous days. 

The defense official said much is still very unclear. 

"We have not necessarily concluded yet that coalition forces struck Syrian forces," the official said. "We're examining that possibility." 

 

Centcom has launched an assessment into whether the claims are credible, before determining whether full investigation is needed, a Centcom official said. The assessment began "immediately" on Saturday after forces were told to halt, the official said.

The strike occurred in the midst of a shaky temporary ceasefire between the regime and opposition forces. On Monday, officials were not optimistic that the deal would hold, citing reports of a Russian or Syrian regime bombing of an aid convoy. 

"It's pretty clear there are troubling levels of violence here in the last 24 hours or so," the defense official said.  

The Syrian military also declared the ceasefire over on Monday.

Secretary of State John KerryJohn Forbes KerryOcasio-Cortez and Cruz's dialogue shows common ground isn't just for moderates 'Landslide' for Biden? A look at 40 years of inaccurate presidential polls Trump campaign considering making a play for blue state Oregon: report MORE, who brokered the ceasefire with Russian Minister Sergei Lavrov, dismissed that declaration. 

"The Syrians do not – didn’t make the deal. The Russians made the agreement. So we need to see what the Russians say," he said from New York.

"The important thing is the Russians need to control Assad, who evidently is indiscriminately bombing, including of humanitarian convoys. So let’s wait and see and collect the facts. We need to see where we are, and then we’ll make a judgment. But we don’t have all the facts at this point."