US-Led Forces Strike Syrian Troops

US-Led Forces Strike Syrian TroopsUS-Led Forces Strike Syrian Troops

US-led coalition airstrikes reportedly killed dozens of Syrian soldiers on Saturday, endangering a US-Russian brokered ceasefire and prompting an emergency UN Security Council meeting as tensions between Moscow and Washington escalated.

The United States military said the coalition stopped the attacks against what it had believed to be the positions of the self-styled Islamic State terrorist group in northeast Syria after Russia informed it that Syrian military personnel and vehicles may have been hit, Reuters reported.

The United States relayed its "regret" through the Russian government for what it described as the unintentional loss of life of Syrian forces in the strike, a senior Obama administration official said in an emailed statement. Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook said in an emailed statement that Russian officials did not voice concerns earlier on Saturday when informed that coalition aircraft would be operating in the strike area.

The 15-member Security Council met on Saturday night after Russia demanded an emergency session to discuss the incident and accused the United States of jeopardizing the Syria deal.

The US ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, chastised Russia for the move. She said the United States was investigating the airstrikes and "if we determine that we did indeed strike Syrian military personnel, that was not our intention and we of course regret the loss of life."

When asked if the incident spelled the end of the Syria deal between Moscow and Washington, Russia's UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said: "This is a very big question mark."

Moscow cited the strikes, which allowed IS fighters to briefly overrun a Syrian Army position near Deir al-Zor airport, as evidence that the United States was helping the militants.

"We are reaching a really terrifying conclusion for the whole world: That the White House is defending Islamic State. Now there can be no doubts about that," the RIA Novosti news agency quoted Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova as saying. Power said Zakharova should be embarrassed by that claim. Churkin said Russia had no "specific evidence" of the United States colluding with IS militants.

The Russian Defense Ministry said US jets had killed more than 60 Syrian soldiers in four airstrikes by two F-16s and two A-10s coming from the direction of Iraq.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based monitoring group with contacts across Syria, cited a military source at Deir al-Zor airport as saying at least 90 Syrian soldiers had been killed. IS said via its Amaq news channel it had taken complete control of Jebel Tharda, where the bombed position was located, which would have allowed it to overlook government-held areas of Deir al-Zor. The city's airport and some districts have been entirely surrounded by IS since last year, with the airport providing their only external access.

However, Russia and Syrian state media said the Syrian Army later recaptured positions it had lost.