18 September 2016
U.S.-led coalition air strikes reportedly killed dozens of Syrian soldiers on Saturday, endangering a U.S.-Russian brokered ceasefire.
It also prompted an emergency U.N. Security Council meeting as tensions between Moscow and Washington escalated.
The U.S. military said the coalition stopped the attacks against what it had believed to be IS positions in northeast Syria after Russia informed it that Syrian military personnel and vehicles may have been hit.
The U.S. 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 a statement.
Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said in a 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 U.S. of jeopardising the Syria deal.
The U.S. ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, chastised Russia for the move.
“Russia really needs to stop the cheap point scoring and the grandstanding and the stunts and focus on what matters, which is implementation of something we negotiated in good faith with them,” Power told reporters.
She said the U.S. was investigating the air strikes 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.”
“I would be very interested to see how Washington is going to react. If what Ambassador Power has done today is any indication of their possible reaction then we are in serious trouble,” Churkin told reporters.
Moscow cited the strikes, which allowed Islamic State fighters to briefly overrun a Syrian army position near Deir al-Zor airport, as evidence that the U.S. was helping the jihadist 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 Zakkharova should be embarrassed by that claim.
Churkin, on the other hand, said Russia had no “specific evidence” of the U.S. colluding with IS militants.