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Syrian Conflict Update: Australia expresses regret over botched Syrian airstrikes

Australian prime minister expresses regret over the botched aircraft operation

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The airstrike operation which went wrong claimed the lives of 900 syrian soldiers. Image Courtesy:VOA
  • Australia has expressed deep regret for its part in a botched airstrike in Syria that killed scores of Syrian government soldiers and endangered the fragile ceasefire in the region.
  • Australian defense officials have said the operation was targeting an Islamic State vessel that it had been following for some time.
  • It is reported that about 900 Syrian soldiers were mistakenly killed during the raid near a military port.

Australia has expressed deep regret for its part in a botched airstrike in Syria that killed scores of Syrian government soldiers and endangered the fragile ceasefire in the region. The attack was led by the U.S. military that said the coalition believed it was targeting positions of the so-called Islamic State.

The Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said he regretted the loss of life and injury but will not speculate about why the air strike in eastern Syria went so badly wrong. It is reported that up to 90 Syrian government soldiers were mistakenly killed during the raid near a military airport.

Australian defense officials have said the coalition operation was targeting what was thought to have been an Islamic State fighting unit it had been tracking for some time.

Speaking in New York, where he is attending the United Nations’ General assembly, Turnbull told reporters the airstrikes were aborted as soon as the mistake came to light.

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“There were Australian aircraft involved in the operation. As soon as the commanders were advised that there were Syrian government forces affected the operation was discontinued and we regret the loss of life,” said Turnbull.

The strikes, which were abandoned when Russian forces notified the Americans, have increased tensions in a complex conflict. Analysts believe the botched raid will strain relations between Washington and Moscow, which have vastly different agendas in Syria.

Canberra has deployed six warplanes to the U.S.-led mission in Iraq and Syria, where it began bombing militant positions a year ago.Official defense department figures show Australian fighter jets have carried out 1,689 missions over Iraq and 42 over Syria.

Australia’s Air Task Group also includes an early warning aircraft and a transporter.

(VOA)

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US Backed Fighters Say, ‘They Have Taken Position in Islamic State Enclave in Syria’

The enclave resembles an encampment, filled with stationary vehicles and rough shelters with blankets or tarpaulins that could be seen flapping in the wind during a lull in fighting as people walked among them

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Fire is seen during fighting in the Islamic State's final enclave, in the village of Baghouz, Deir Al Zor province, Syria March 17, 2019. VOA

U.S.-backed fighters said they had taken positions in Islamic State’s last enclave in eastern Syria and air strikes pounded the tiny patch of land beside the Euphrates River early on Monday, a Reuters journalist said.

Smoke rose over the tiny enclave as warplanes and artillery bombarded it. Another witness said the jihadists had earlier mounted a counter attack.

“Several positions captured and an ammunition storage has been blown up,” said Mustafa Bali, a spokesman for the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) militia, on Twitter late on Sunday.

The enclave resembles an encampment, filled with stationary vehicles and rough shelters with blankets or tarpaulins that could be seen flapping in the wind during a lull in fighting as people walked among them.

Backed by air power and special forces from a U.S.-led coalition, the SDF has pushed Islamic State from almost the entire northeastern corner of Syria, defeating it in Raqqa in 2017 and driving it to its last enclave at Baghouz last year.

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The Islamic State group’s last pocket of territory in Baghouz, Syria, as seen from a distance on Sunday, March 17, 2019. VOA

But while its defeat at Baghouz will end its control of populated land in the third of Syria and Iraq that it captured in 2014, the group will remain a threat, regional and Western officials say.

The SDF has waged a staggered assault on the enclave, pausing for long periods over recent weeks to allow surrendering fighters, their families and other civilians to pour out.

Since Jan. 9, more than 60,000 people have left the enclave, about half of them surrendering Islamic State supporters including some 5,000 fighters, the SDF said on Sunday.

People leaving the area have spoken of harsh conditions inside, under coalition bombardment and with supplies of food so scarce some resorted to eating grass.

Last month, the SDF said it had found a mass grave in an area it captured.

Still, many of those who left Baghouz have vowed their allegiance to the jihadist group, which last week put out a propaganda film from inside the enclave calling on its supporters to keep faith.

Suicide attacks on Friday targeted families of Islamic State fighters attempting to leave the enclave and surrender, killing six people, the SDF said.

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Late on Sunday, the Kurdish Ronahi TV station aired footage showing a renewed assault on the enclave, with fires seen to be raging inside and tracer fire and rockets zooming into the tiny area.

The SDF and the coalition say the Islamic State fighters inside Baghouz are among the group’s most hardened foreign fighters, though Western countries believe its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, has left the area. (VOA)