An air strike against the Islamic State (IS) group in northern Syria on Tuesday by the U.S.-led anti-terror coalition mistakenly killed 18 members of allied forces there, the Pentagon said Thursday.
“The strike was requested by the partnered forces, who had identified the target location as an ISIS (IS) fighting position,” the Pentagon said in a statement. “The target location was actually a forward Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighting position.”
The SDF acknowledged the strike on Thursday, saying a number of its fighters were killed or wounded.
Media reports said the strike was intended to target IS militants south of Tabqa. The SDF, with the help of air and ground support from the U.S.-led coalition, has surrounded the IS stronghold.
In a separate development, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said the suspected chemical weapons attack on a rebel-held town earlier this month that was widely blamed on his forces was a “fabrication.”
In an interview with AFP in Damascus — his first comments since a U.S. missile strike on a Syrian air base in response to the chemical attack — Assad said his army had given up all its chemical weapons.
“Definitely, 100 percent for us, it’s fabrication,” he said in the interview on Wednesday.
“Our impression is that the West, mainly the United States, is hand-in-glove with the terrorists. They fabricated the whole story in order to have a pretext for the attack,” he said.
A reported April 4 toxic gas attack in Syria’s rebel-held Idlib Province in northwestern Syria killed at least 70 civilians and wounded scores of others.
Western powers, including the United States, blamed Assad’s government for the attack.
The Syrian government denied possessing chemical weapons, while the Russian Defense Ministry accused Syrian rebels of producing toxic agents in a depot which exploded under a strike by Syrian warplanes and caused the contamination.
On April 6, the United States launched 59 cruise missiles against a Syrian air base, from which airplanes allegedly carrying chemical weapons took off.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has condemned the U.S. military assault on the Syrian airfield, saying the move represents an aggression against a sovereign state in violation of international law under a far-fetched pretext.
On late Wednesday, Russia vetoed a United Nations (UN) resolution demanding the Syrian government cooperate with an investigation into the suspected chemical attack, saying that Moscow had consistently expressed its “categorical disagreement” with the draft resolution, which led to further criticism from the West, including the United States.
“The international community has spoken. Russia now has a lot to prove,” U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, however, said Thursday that the vetoed proposal was formulated “unilaterally” as it only asked the Syrian government to open access to all its military facilities.
Lavrov also called for the UN chemical weapons watchdog to send an international group of inspectors to investigate the alleged toxic gas attack in Syria.
“Today there is an emergency meeting of the OPCW Executive Council in the Hague and we have sent our proposal to form such a delegation,” Lavrov said at a press conference. He was referring to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, an international body for chemical weapons control.
The diplomat suggested that the group of inspectors should include experts from Western countries, countries in the Middle East and Russia.
The investigation should be carried out “transparently, independently and professionally” both in the airbase where the Syrian aircraft allegedly carrying chemical weapons took off, and in the area where the alleged toxic gas was used, Lavrov said.
The Syrian army meanwhile said hundreds were killed when a U.S.-led coalition airstrike hit a chemical weapons depot controlled by the IS group in eastern Syria
The U.S.-led airstrikes targeted the big depot containing chemical materials in the town of Hatleh in the eastern countryside of Deir al-Zour on Wednesday, said the army in a statement.
It added that large numbers of civilians were among those killed due to the suffocation caused by the spread of the toxic materials.
The explosion of the arms depot left a big white cloud, which turned yellow, said the statement.
“This incident is a sign of the coordination between the terrorist groups and the powers supporting them to find pretexts to frame the Syrian army and accuse it of using chemical weapons,” the statement said. Enditem