US bomb allied anti-ISIS forces in Syria, Pentagon confirms

© Goran Tomasevic
A US warplane hit the forces of an allied Sunni Muslim militant group that Washington had trained in an apparent case of friendly fire in late May, according to a WSJ report. Pentagon has launched an internal investigation.

On May 27 and May 28, the US conducted a series of airstrikes in and around the city of Ma’ra, Centcom spokesman Colonel Patrick Ryder said in a statement on Saturday, confirming an earlier media report.

“The coalition was subsequently informed that one of the airstrikes may have hit counter-ISIL forces and their vehicle, instead of ISIL forces. Initial reports were that four counter-ISIL personnel may have been killed in the strike,” he said.

The strikes targeted the forces of the terrorist group Islamic State (formerly ISIS or ISIL), but the Pentagon-backed Mutasim Brigade said one of them hit its troops, killing 10 fighters, the Wall street journal reported on Friday. 

Replying to a request by the WSJ, the Central Command confirmed that a friendly fire incident did take place, but reported a smaller number of casualties.

“Initial reports were that four counter-ISIL personnel may have been killed in the strike,” said Col. Patrick Ryder. It wasn’t immediately clear why there was a discrepancy in casualty figures.

“An investigation into this incident has been initiated. We will continue our support to counter-ISIL forces and will apply any lessons learned derived from the investigation to improve our operations in the future,” Col. Ryder added.

Mustafa Sejry, the head of Mutasim’s political office, said their forces were 400 meters from those of Islamic State's (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) when they were bombed by the Americans and that the brigade felt “betrayed” by the allies, the newspaper said.

“They apologized and stated that it was by mistake,” he said. “And we have no other choice than to say maybe it was mistake.”

It was not immediately clear why the Pentagon failed to disclose the embarrassing incident earlier.

The Mutasim Brigate is one of the groups selected for the Pentagon’s relaunched program for training and arming ‘moderate’ militant forces in Syria. The initial program was scrapped last year after failing spectacularly to attract recruits deemed worthy of US aid, but the US military decided to start it again.

The May mishap is reportedly the first friendly fire incident acknowledged by the Pentagon in Syria during its anti-IS operation, but a similar one happened in Iraq in December, when American warplanes killed nine Iraqi Army soldiers while their unit was fighting jihadists.