U.S. admits to possible accidental bombing of Syrian troops

FILE: Syrian rescue workers and citizens evacuate people from a building following a reported barrel bomb attack by Syrian government forces on the central al-Fardous rebel held neighborhood of the northern Syrian city of Aleppo on June 9, 2015. (Karam Al-Masri/CBS News)
FILE: Syrian rescue workers and citizens evacuate people from a building following a reported barrel bomb attack by Syrian government forces on the central al-Fardous rebel held neighborhood of the northern Syrian city of Aleppo on June 9, 2015. (Karam Al-Masri/CBS News)

BEIRUT (CBS News) — Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) shot down a Syrian warplane on Sunday as regime forces regained ground lost to the extremists following a U.S.-led airstrike that hit government forces the day before, state media said.

The U.S. military says it may have unintentionally struck Syrian troops while carrying out a raid against ISIS on Saturday. The incident has threatened an already fragile U.S. and Russian-brokered cease-fire that has largely held in the five-year-old Syria war despite dozens of alleged violations on both sides.

The Syrian Foreign Ministry called the U.S.-led coalition airstrikes a “dangerous and blatant aggression against the Syrian Arab Republic and its army.”

Syrians help a wounded youth following an air strike on the Fardous rebel held neighborhood of the northern Syrian city of Aleppo on April 26, 2016. (CBS News)
Syrians help a wounded youth following an air strike on the Fardous rebel held neighborhood of the northern Syrian city of Aleppo on April 26, 2016. (CBS News)

The ministry’s statement, sent to the presidents of the United Nations and the U.N. Security Council, said American warplanes repeatedly attacked Syrian army positions on Saturday afternoon. It said the airstrikes were “on purpose and planned in advance,” and killed dozens of Syrian soldiers.

Russia’s military said it was told by the Syrian army that at least 62 soldiers were killed in the Deir el-Zour air raid and more than 100 wounded. The Russian air force has been carrying out strikes across Syria to bolster President Bashar Assad’s forces for nearly a year, and the two militaries work in close coordination.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which relies on a network of activists inside Syria, said the U.S.-led coalition struck army positions in Tharda mountain and a nearby artillery division, killing 90 troops and wounding 110.

CBS News correspondent David Martin reports the U.S. is still trying to figure out why, as a Defense official says, “we didn’t hit the right guys.” They had been tracking ISIS fighters as well as Syrian units in the same area. It’s still not clear if they mistook a Syrian unit for an ISIS unit or if they had the identification right and just hit the wrong target. Either way, they destroyed half a dozen vehicles and killed the personnel around them.

Russia said the United States was being obstructive and deceptive regarding the airstrike by coalition warplanes on the Syrian military position. A Foreign Ministry statement on Sunday said that in an emergency U.N. Security Council session called after the airstrike, the United States took “an unconstructive and indistinct position.”

The Americans “not only turned out to be unable to give an adequate explanation of what happened, but also tried, as is their custom, to turn everything upside down,” the statement said.

Earlier Sunday, the state-run SANA news agency quoted an unnamed military official as saying that dozens of ISIS fighters were killed in the offensive on Tharda mountain under the cover of Syrian airstrikes. ISIS had claimed that its fighters captured Tharda mountain, which overlooks the city’s government-controlled airport.

The Syrian military official said government troops had regained control of areas the extremists captured “as a result of the American aircraft aggression.”

State TV later reported that a Syrian warplane was shot down while carrying out attacks on ISIS militants in the Deir el-Zour province, adding that the pilot was killed. ISIS-linked media also reported the incident.

The Observatory confirmed the downing of the Russian-made MiG warplane over Tharda mountain. It said that intense airstrikes by Russian warplanes have killed at least 38 ISIS fighters since Saturday.

The Syrian military said the coalition airstrike hit a base in Deir el-Zour that was surrounded by ISIS, allowing the extremists to advance and overrun Syrian army positions in the area. Tens of thousands of people live in government-held neighborhoods of Deir el-Zour under the siege of IS fighters. Government areas have been relying on airlifted aid.

ISIS controls much of the surrounding province, which borders Iraq.

U.S. and Russia end cease-fire

Also Sunday, the Syrian government and opposition reported violations of the cease-fire that went into effect on Monday. The cease-fire does not include ISIS and al Qaeda-linked militants.

The Syrian army said in a statement last week that the seven-day truce ends at midnight Sunday.

Syrian state media said insurgents shelled residential areas in the northern city of Aleppo and the central province of Homs. The opposition’s Local Coordination Committees also reported that government warplanes attacked the central rebel-held town of Rastan.

The Observatory and Ahmad al-Masalmeh, an opposition activist based in the southern province of Daraa, said government helicopter gunships dropped barrel bombs on the village of Dael, killing six and wounding a large number of people.

Also on Sunday, some four million students headed to 15,000 schools for the start of a new school year, state media said.

Syria’s five-year conflict has damaged hundreds of schools and forced thousands of young Syrians to drop out.

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