Good faith mistake of misidentifying fighters loyal to Bashar al-Assad as Isis activists led to 17 September airstrikes that killed at least 15 in Deir ez-Zor

The US military was officially admitted flaw in a major September airstrike in eastern Syria that killed at least 15 fighters loyal to the regime of despot Bashar al-Assad.

US Central Command( Centcom ), which both conducted and analyse the 17 September strike, said the attack stemmed from a good faith mistake that resulted targeters to believe the Syrian fighters, whom Centcom told did not wear uniforms, were Islamic State( Isis) militants.

British, Australian and Danish warplanes also participated in the attack and released their weapons on the mistaken target, according to US air force Brig Gen Richard Coe, the analyse officer.

Coe stopped short of apologizing to the Syrian government, telling such a statement was beyond the purview of his six-week investigation.

The ten-strikes occurred in the eastern province of Deir ez-Zor, where the US bombs Isis fighters and postures almost every day, and where known regime loyalists are relatively few. Due to the lack of observable insignia, Centcom would not say definitively that it had killed Syrian soldiers.

We made an unintentional, regrettable fault, based on several factors in the targeting process, Coe told reporters on Tuesday, who said he found no intent to target Syrian[ government] forces.

Coes examiners were unable to access the scene of the ten-strike, a few kilometers north of the Deir ez-Zor airfield, and the Russian military which is supporting Assads campaign against Isis and rebel opposition forces did not participate in the inquiry.

An initial report on the incident by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights suggested that 83 people had been killed. Coe used to say on the basis of contemporaneous video evidence and interviews, he could only definitively determine 15 dead regime loyalists, but added that the death toll was likely to be higher.

Soon after the incident on 17 September, Centcom said that it had halted airstrikes in progress in Deir ez-Zor after speaking to Russian officials on a channel established to deconflict the two countries air campaigns over Syria. In that conversation, the Russians informed their US equivalents that the targets of the ten-strike are likely to be part of the Syrian military.

The conversation turned out to be crucial. A US military officer misidentified the coordinates of the targeted region, and presumed from the lack of Russian objection that there was no problem with the aimed strike.

But Centcom said on Tuesday that the Russians made a critical delay before informing the US of the mistake, waiting 27 minutes for a familiar US counterpart to be reached.

During that time, 15 of the total 32 airstrikes occurred. Coe gave the Russians a measure of credit: Without that bellow from the Russians, the strikes would have continued for longer than they did.

Coe described the planning process for the strike unfolding over at least two days with multiple, multiple change changes in different parts of the globe contributing to human error.

The intended strikes were substantial: warplanesand drones released 34 guided weapons and 380 rounds of 30mm ammunition on what Coe described as defensive struggle positions, vehicles, tents, bed-down locatings, passageways and personnel.

The presence of a tank tip-off at least one intelligence analyst to conclude that the target was not Isis, but Coe said the analysts assessment was neither widely distributed nor fully accurate, as earlier airstrikes against Isis had reached tanks commandeered from the Syrian regime. The tank appears to have persuaded ten-strike planners that they had situated a major Isis target, and what began as a deliberate ten-strike expanded, blurring targeting procedures, as officers and analysts became convinced they had a major target of opportunity in their crosshairs.

Constantly challenging our own conclusions in these processes is something we need to do every time, Coe said.

The admission of defect by the US military is the latest potential sign that the US under Donald Trump will acquiesce to a Syria under Assads rule.

Since his election, speculation has mounted that Trump will drop Barack Obamas calls for Assad to relinquish power. Trump has expressed respect for Assads patron, President Vladimir Putin of Russia, and portrayed US support for the anti-Assad opposition forces-out as a disaster.

Earlier this month, Trump told the Wall Street Journal that Syria is fighting Isis, indicating a lack of craving for the US to undermine the foe of its enemy.

Trump is unlikely to arm the Syrian opposition a policy advocated by David Petraeus, whom Trump is considering for secretary of state because we have no idea who these people are. He acknowledged to the paper: Ive had an opposite opinion of many people regarding Syria.

Assad has voiced cautiously enthusiastic since Trumps victory, describing the president-elect as a natural ally to Portuguese television.

The US admission of fault comes as Assad, backed by the Russian air force, is poised for a critical victory in the northern city of Aleppo, a former centre of manufacturing that years of war have turned into a graveyard. Tens of thousands of civilians are fleeing Aleppo in advance of a final bombardment that Russian leaflets reportedly describe as a pending annihilation.

Coes investigation also a new level of detail into the US-Russian deconfliction channel, established last year after the Russian air force entered the war on Assads behalf.

During the 17 September conversation with the Russians, the US delivered highly precise but ultimately mistaken coordinates for the intended attack, as an analyst miscommunicated. Coe said it was the first time that the US had called the Russians in advance of a strike with such precise location information.

We would have a large number of aircraft operating in that small airspace for an extended period of time and we are trying to patently notify the Russians so theyd be aware of our activities there, Coe said.

Read more: www.theguardian.com