By Mariah McCloskey
On September 17, 23 people, nine of whom were children, were killed during a United States drone strike in Syria that was originally meant for Islamic State militants. Since then, both the U.S and Russia have accused each other of violating their fragile cease-fire deal.
Russia’s Defense Ministry stated that the U.S. was not fulfilling its obligations under the cease-fire agreement, in spite of Washington’s accusations that Moscow was allegedly not holding up its end of the deal. “The beginning of work of the Joint Implementation Group was supposed to be September 19. So if the U.S. wanted to conduct an effective strike on Al-Nusra or ISIS, in Deir ez-Zor or anywhere else, they could wait two more days and coordinate with our military and be sure that they are striking the right people. Instead they chose to conduct this reckless operation,” said Vitaly Churkin, Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations.
Insurgents say they only ‘reluctantly accepted the initial deal to relieve the humanitarian situation in besieged areas they control,’ and blame Russia for undermining the cease-fire. “The truce,” said a rebel leader in Aleppo, “will not hold out.” The rebels have also accused Russia of using the cease-fire to give the Syrian army and allied militias a chance to regroup and deploy forces.
Deir al-Zour, where the airstrike took place, is far from the populated western region where the separate civil war that is the subject of the cease-fire is focused. The Islamic State controls much of the province, although there are some scattered Syrian military installations.
Deir al-Zour was in an area the coalition has struck in the past, according to U.S. Central Command officials. Coalition members in the operation had earlier informed Russian counterparts of the upcoming strike. “Syria is a complex situation with various military forces and militias in close proximity, but coalition forces would not intentionally strike a known Syrian military unit,” the officials said. “The coalition will review this strike and the circumstances surrounding it to see if any lessons can be learned.”
The Central Command said U.S. surveillance had been “tracking” an Islamic State fighting position “for a significant amount of time before the strike.” An official in the U.S. Department of Defense, one among several officials who spoke on the condition of the developing situation, said the militants appeared to have a large number of vehicles and a tank.
Ambassador Samantha Power, U.S. permanent representative to the United Nations acknowledged last week that the United States “did indeed strike Syrian military personnel, that was not our intention, and we, of course, regret the loss of life.”
A senior Obama administration official said that before the strike was called off, U.S. forces had destroyed roughly six vehicles and the “personnel associated with them.” “If we did get this wrong, which it looks like we did, it’s not something we intended to do,” the official said.