- By Paul McLearyPaul McLeary is Foreign Policy’s senior reporter covering the U.S. Defense Department and national security issues. He joined the Washington office in 2015 after working for Defense News, where he was also on the Pentagon beat, and covered stories relating to Pentagon spending and the defense industry. While there, and in a previous incarnation as a New York-based reporter, Paul embedded with U.S. Army and Marine Corps units in Iraq and Afghanistan to cover ground combat operations, where he got inside a secretive drone program being run out of Bagram air base. He has also traveled with the U.S. Navy, covered NATO meetings in Europe with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and stalked major international arms shows in Paris and London.
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