Russian air forces bombed a site perilously close to U.S. troops in Syria on Tuesday, a near-miss in the fog of war against the Islamic State — though the strikes still hit U.S.-backed forces.
U.S. Lt. Army Gen. Stephen Townsend said Wednesday the incident occurred after Russian pilots began bombing what they thought were ISIS fighters in a “bunch of villages” in northern Syria.
They ended up hitting forces with the U.S.-backed Syrian Arab Coalition.
U.S. troops were several miles away, and the bombing stopped after U.S. officials made “quick calls … to deconfliction channels,” said Townsend, commander of Operation Inherent Resolve, the joint operation to stop ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
“It’s a very complicated battlefield situation,” Townsend told reporters in a teleconference from Baghdad. “Essentially three armies have all converged within same grid square. It’s very difficult and complicated.”
An unspecified number of casualties occurred in the strike, outside the city of al-Bab, he said.
The confusion played out on the same day President Trump was delivering his address to a joint session of Congress. In the address, Trump called anew for the eradication of ISIS.
Russia’s escalating involvement in Syria, though, has posed complications — while the U.S. and Russia both are fighting ISIS, Moscow has been at odds with Washington in its support of Bashar Assad.