The US military on Tuesday blamed human error for what it called a mistaken coalition air assault Sept. 17 that reportedly killed dozens of Syrian soldiers. Targeters believed they were directing attacks on ISIS fighters, and because this was an honest mistake the strikes did not violate the international law of armed conflict, US military investigators concluded.
Multiple opportunities to avoid the mistake were missed in a sequence of events that began with the erroneous identification of a vehicle as belonging to ISIS and ended when a Russian military officer called a US-Russia telephone hotline to alert the Americans that the coalition strikes near Deir el-Zour were hitting Syrian government forces.
The call prompted the Americans to halt the attacks, but the chief US investigator told reporters at the Pentagon that if word from the Russians had not been delayed 27 minutes, nearly half of the 30-plus strikes might not have been conducted. The Russian caller waited that long for a familiar US counterpart to come on the line before passing his message, investigators said.
"This is unfortunate," the investigators wrote in an executive summary, referring to the 27-minute delay, "but it could have been even more so had the Russians not called." They also said that in notifying Russian officers in advance of the attack, the US-led air operations center inadvertently provided erroneous information about the target location.