US airstrike on SAA in Deir ez-Zor

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"Russia has blood on its hands and has no right to complain."
What was generally known vs. what they said

US "Freudian slip"

Sept. 17, 2016 US "Freudian slip": air strikes on Syrian positions in Deir-ez-Zor, which killed at least 62 Syrian soldiers, 160 wounded; after SAA al-Tharda Mountain positions were hit, IS attacked at once and according to media reports coming as events unfolded, initially gained control(SANA) over mountains overlooking the airport. Eventually, as is indicated by Vitaly Churkin, below, Russian air strikes helped prevent IS advance (and earlier gains were reversed).

US centcom attributed the strike to an error.
Russia asked for a UN meeting, following on SAR protesting the strike; revealed some details of earlier agreements with the US on ceasefire, indicating earlier that USA is not fulfilling its part, and the agreement is in danger
Russian MoD extra press conference was announced but, apparently, has not yet occurred

Russian MoD briefing (Rus.)

General-Lieutenant Rudskoy led the press conference, reports by head of reconciliation center General Savchenko, and a Syrian MoD representative sitting next to him regarding losses were provided.
  • 17:00 US strikes by two F 16 planes, two A-10 planes, and strike-capable drone on SAA positions 6 km south of Deir-ez-Zor airport. No Russian strikes in the area.
  • after receiving information from Syrian representatives, Russian group commander contacted Center for Joint Operations in Al Udeid, Qatar and demanded to stop strikes immediately.
  • 17:50 strikes stopped.
  • IS fighters started an attack (exact time not provided by MoD; said to be 15 minutes later in media reports)
  • as stated, "right now, fierce fighting continues"
  • from 19:00, Russian airspace forces provided air support to SAA, perform airstrikes on IS. "Up until now", (as stated) 10 strikes were delivered.
  • Personnel losses of 160, including 62 killed; 3 tanks, 3 BMP, 4 mortars, and one anti-aircraft installation.
  • Time zone not clearly stated but it's the same time in Moscow and Damascus, so Moscow time may be assumed. Press conference time is estimated to be 8 p.m. (exact time not stated and perhaps will be clarified later).

UN Security Council

Samantha Power 'we will investigate', and goes into into accusing Syria and Russia in everything (chemical weapons, torture, targeting civilians, bombing hospitals, etc). She complains that this emergency meeting was a "stunt," over one accidental strike, and asks whether there should be one after every alleged Russian or Syrian crime.
Vitaly Churkin walks out, gives a press conference (Eng.), suggests that that was not accidental (wonders why the US was suddenly trying to help the SAA against ISIS in this area, in order to make this "suspicious" mistake in a "reckless, reckless" attack.). Spills some beans on the agreement (5:00), tells that on September 19, US-Russian implementation group will start operating and US would have certainty whom they are hitting; but they preferred to act otherwise instead. Asks "who is in charge in Washington?" (~10:30). Q: is this the end of the deal between US and Russia? A: ...big question mark... if US response is like Samantha Power's, we are in serious trouble (12:30)

Syrian Soldiers Respond

Ambassador Power seems to feel this was an obvious mistake, everyone knows the US is leading the real fight against Islamic State, while the Syrian government has allowed it to grow. She's clear the US would never intentionally attack a Syrian military position and assist and IS advance. In fact, there's an implication from the area chosen that the US was trying to help the SAA as they decimated them instead. So ... how are these intentions coming trough on the end of the not-quite-allies killed in this not-quite-friendly-fire incident?

    • We first thought the aircraft are support to us after the first 2 shots, but we quickly found out that they are targeting our forces aggressively, while we were fighting IS terrorists. The aircraft used cluster bombs against us.
    • A day before the airstrikes, the drones were flying and scanning all the area
    • The US airstikes destroyed all our equipment and defense points.
    • IS fighters attacked us immediately after and during the US strikes. Some of them were laughing
    • US drones and helicopters opened fire from machine guns on our retreating forces
    • It is for sure wasn't not a mistake, they targeted us intentionally to help IS.
    • America is ISIS itself

Sources

US appoints a 1 star general to investigate.

The report says the attack lasted an hour (13:55 to 14:56), ending just four minutes after the Russians clarified who they were attacking. The article explains why the Russians didn't tell them before the attack who should be there:

This was the first time that the U.S. coalition used a special United States/Russia Hotline "to inform of an imminent strike," the report adds. But the coalition passed along incorrect coordinates, which "may have affected the Russian response to the notification and caused considerable confusion."

So in addition to the targeting error, they also made an error is reporting the target area, both contributing to the attack being able to happen. However, it's said the Russians contributed to the long attack by waiting 27 minutes to talk to their usual contact and not the battlefield commander, after they decided halfway through what was going on.


Who did it?

Map

wikimapia ;google map.

The Battle for Deir Al=Zour (PDF file)

Analysis

"Finally, a possible flag was called out in the south target area 30 minutes prior to the strike and the call went unacknowledged due to human factors, to include task saturation and target fixation."

The type of flag isn't specified, but it wasn't cited in support of the ISIS ID, and in the end they decided Syrian forces were "more likely than not" the ones hit, so presumably it was the expected Syrian flag (or perhaps of an allied force) in this known government-held area.


Background

Nine months earlier, in December, 2015, an apparent US-coalition strike hit a Syrian army camp near Deir Ez-Zor killing 3 soldiers. See Airstrike on Saeqa military camp near Deir ez-Zor. In that case, the coalition acknowledged it had jets in the area, exactly an hour before the attack (depending which time zone was used - unclear). So they denied the claims, and in fact blamed Russian bombers for the supposed mistake (long-range bombers came in and flew the same area an hour later, at the same time as the attack, all seen on radar, according to unnamed officials).

See also