Misdirected coalition strike kills 18 partner forces in Syria: officials
WASHINGTONA coalition air strike accidentally killed 18 members of a U.S.-backed Arab-Kurdish alliance fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) near a key town in northern Syria, the U.S.-led coalition said on April 13.
The strike on April 11 occurred south of Tabqa, a strategically important town on the Euphrates River next to a dam and military airport, and close to the ISIL stronghold of Raqqa, which the Arab-Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are trying to capture from the jihadists.
“The strike was requested by the partnered forces, who had identified the target location as an ISIS [ISIL] fighting position,” a coalition statement read.
“The target location was actually a forward Syrian Democratic Forces fighting position.”
SDF troops backed by coalition air power and other military assistance have been fighting for control of Tabqa since last month.
The town is considered an important waypoint ahead of the main offensive for Raqqa, the ISIL group’s last bastion in Syria.
The coalition offered its “deepest condolences” to the members of the SDF and their families.
“The coalition is in close contact with our SDF partners who have expressed a strong desire to remain focused on the fight against ISIS despite this tragic incident,” the statement said.
Officials were assessing the cause and would “implement appropriate safeguards to prevent similar incidents in the future,” the statement added.
The SDF is a local Arab-Kurdish force that the U.S.-led coalition is supporting with arms, air strikes, training and advice as they fight ISIL.
The Kurdish forces of SDF are made up of the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Unit (YPG), which Turkey regards as a terrorist organization due to its ties with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
Meanwhile, SDF launched a new phase of their offensive around Raqqa on April 13, a statement said, but they have not yet begun to attack the militant group’s stronghold of Raqqa city in an apparent delay in the operation.
Officials in the Kurdish YPG militia, a powerful component of the SDF, said last month that assaults on Raqqa city itself would start in early or mid-April.
But the fourth phase of the campaign aims to clear ISIL pockets from the countryside north of the city, the SDF statement said. It did not say when the assault on Raqqa itself would begin.
“We aim to liberate dozens of villages in the Wadi Jallab area and the northern countryside ... and clear the last obstacles in front of us to pave the way for the operation to liberate Raqqa city,” it said. The SDF have closed in on Raqqa from the north, east and west.