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US-led coalition in Syria attacks pro-Assad fighters

February 8, 2018

The US-led coalition fighting the "Islamic State" has killed 100 people in an attack, unusually targeting fighters loyal to Bashar al-Assad. It said it was retaliating after the fighters attacked its Syrian allies.

Syrien Manbij US-Truppen
Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo/S. George

The US-led coalition in Syria said it had carried out retaliatory airstrikes late on Wednesday and early Thursday, killing about 100 people it described as part of President Bashar al-Assad's forces.

The latest action, described by the Syrian government as a new effort "to support terrorism," highlights the degree to which US-backed and Russian-backed forces in Syria are increasingly at odds.

Read more: Kurds in Syria call on US support to rein in Turkish operations

- Syrian officials said the attack on government-backed troops represented "a crime against humanity." The Syrian state news service SANA said the forces that were targeted were involved in the fight against "Islamic State" (IS). Damascus has sent a letter to the United Nations secretary-general in response to the attack.

- The US military says more than 100 Syrian pro-regime forces were killed while they were engaging SDF and coalition forces.

- US officials claim the attack was a response to an initial assault 8 kilometers (5 miles) east of the Euphrates River, the airspace above which is controlled by the US.

- Russia and the US informally treat the Euphrates as a dividing line for their air forces' bombing missions over Syria.

Russia labels airstrike 'aggression'

The Russian Defense Ministry said later on Thursday that the US goal in Syria was not to fight IS, but to capture what it called "economic assets." 

"It looks like the Americans have embarked on the course aimed at dividing the country," Lavrov said, as reported by the TASS news agency. Plans for the actual partition of Syria do exist, and we are aware of that. We will ask our American counterparts how they see all that," he said, adding that a meeting would take place next Wednesday.

US says Russians were told

US Central Command (CENTCOM) said that members of its coalition were "co-located" with the SDF fighters "in an advise, assist and accompany capacity" at the time of the attack.

Read more: France: 'All indications' Syrian regime is using chorine gas

The US-led coalition alerted Russian officials about the presence of SDF forces in the area far in advance of the attack, a US official told Reuters. "Coalition officials were in regular communication with Russian counterparts before, during and after the thwarted [enemy] attack," he said.

War with many fronts

The US, Russia, and now Turkey, all maintain a military presence in Syria. Moscow is supporting the Assad regime in its fight against certain rebel groups. The US was supporting various rebel groups, most notably Kurdish fighters, primarily in their battle against IS. Turkey, meanwhile, recently assaulted areas held by Kurdish groups near its border.

Read more: 'Of Fathers and Sons': new film goes behind Syrian civil war's sectarian lines

Though largely vanquished, IS remnants endure in parts of the war-torn country.

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jbh/rc (Reuters, dpa)