The Cable

U.S. Says Nyet to Allegations It Bombed Syrian Base

Dispute adds to an already complex battlefield situation

Syrian army soldiers patrol near a building previously used for storing seeds in the countryside of Deir Hafer, a former bastion of Islamic State group, near the northern Syrian city of Aleppo on December 2, 2015.
 / AFP / GEORGE OURFALIAN        (Photo credit should read GEORGE OURFALIAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Syrian army soldiers patrol near a building previously used for storing seeds in the countryside of Deir Hafer, a former bastion of Islamic State group, near the northern Syrian city of Aleppo on December 2, 2015. / AFP / GEORGE OURFALIAN (Photo credit should read GEORGE OURFALIAN/AFP/Getty Images)

A U.S. military official said Monday that the United States is “certain it was the Russians” who bombed a Syrian army base Sunday evening, killing at least three soldiers and wounding 13 others.

Moscow entered the air war in Syria in late September, deploying dozens of fighter and bomber planes to the country to strike rebel groups opposed to the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. If the American assertions are correct, the errant strike effectively killed troops loyal to a government Russia is fighting to protect.

The dispute over the attack began earlier Monday, when the Assad government accused the United States of hitting a base near the town of Ayyash in the eastern Dayr Az Zawr province. The Syrian Foreign Ministry sent a letter to the U.N. Secretary-General and to the head of the U.N. Security Council complaining about the alleged U.S. strike, saying the attack “hampers efforts to combat terrorism and proves once again that this coalition lacks seriousness and credibility to effectively fight terrorism.”

U.S. officials denied the accusation, reporting that the only airstrikes the U.S.-led coalition carried out in the area were against oil well heads approximately 55 kilometers southeast of Ayyash.

U.S. officials have yet to present any evidence to support their claims of Russian responsibility, and there has been no independent confirmation of the assertions. The Russian and American military commands in the region set up a communications channel in October to ensure aircraft from the two countries did not accidentally bump into one another over Syria, but it’s not clear whether that system could have helped determine which country’s warplane was responsible for the errant strike.

Questions have been raised over the quality of Russian intelligence after a Russian Su-24 bomber strayed over Turkish airspace last month, after which a Turkish F-16 shot it down, resulting in the death of one Russian pilot. The attack led to an escalating tit-for-tat between the two countries that shows no signs of ending anytime soon.

Photo credit: GEORGE OURFALIAN/AFP/Getty Images

Paul McLeary is Foreign Policy’s senior reporter covering the U.S. Defense Department and national security issues. @paulmcleary

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