US admits 'unintentional errors' led to deadly coalition strike on Syrian forces

At least 15 fighters aligned with the Syrian regime were killed during the airstrike in September

US admits 'unintentional errors' led to deadly coalition strike on Syrian forces

Picture by Christophe Ena AP/Press Association Images

A US military investigation has found "unintentional human errors" led to a deadly coalition strike on Syrian forces in September.

At least 15 fighters aligned with the Syrian regime, believed at the time to be from Islamic State, were killed during the airstrike on 17 September, near the city of Deir Azzor.

They were targeted by British, American, Australian, and Danish fighter jets and drones. 

Thirty four precision guided missiles and 380 rounds of ammunition were fired at the soldiers, who were not wearing recognisable uniforms or insignia badges. 

The investigation revealed the coalition had phoned the Russian military command to notify them their planes would be striking the area. 

This was to avoid any mid-air collision between the two sides.

However, the information passed to the Russians was wrong - the location given was wring by "several kilometres", an error put down to a lack of knowledge of the terrain.

The investigating team admitted had the correct location been given, the Russians could have warned the coalition they would be attacking Syrian forces, before it happened.

As it was, the attack only stopped when the Russian military called the US-led coalition to tell them they were striking Syrian forces, not Islamic State. 

Shortly after the attack, Syrian President Bashar al Assad claimed it was "definitely intentional".

Brigadier General Richard Coe, the investigating officer, said there were a series of mistakes that led to the strikes.

He admitted the errors ranged from misidentification of targets and communication errors in a hotline with Russia.

The US military's Central Command said in a statement there were "errors in the development of intelligence, as well as missed opportunities for coalition members on duty to recognise and voice contrary evidence to decision-makers."

Responding to the report, the Ministry of Defence said: "We welcome the coalition's report and its conclusion the decision to identify the targets as Daesh fighters was reasonable, supported by the weight of information available at the time and made in good faith.

"Coalition airstrikes are solely aimed at defeating Daesh. 

"We would not and did not intentionally strike known Syrian Regime military units.

"While we cannot completely eliminate the risk of accidental targeting when working in difficult conflict environments, all UK airstrikes are precision guided, conducted under strict targeting procedures and fully in compliance with the Laws of Armed conflict. 

"We work hard to do everything we can to prevent any unnecessary loss of life. This approach contrasts strongly with actions of the Assad Regime and Russia."

Seventy witnesses were interview in the internal investigation. The full report will remain classified.