US and allies committed ‘war crime’ by bombing around 100 pro-Assad troops, Syrian government tells UN
The US-led coalition in Syria committed a “war crime” by bombing pro-Assad forces and should be dismantled, Syria told the United Nations in a letter on Thursday.
“We demand [that the international community] condemn this massacre and hold the coalition responsible for it,” Syrian state news agency (SANA) reported, citing a letter sent by the foreign ministry to the UN.
US forces targeted the pro-government troops with air strikes and artillery earlier Thursday after they launched an attack against a base belonging to US-backed rebels in the eastern province of Deir al-Zour, according to US military spokesman Colonel Thomas Veale. US military personnel were at the base at the time, he said.
Syria’s official news agency SANA claimed on television that the attack was a “new aggression” and that it left “scores of persons dead and others injured”.
A US military official who spoke on condition of anonymity said the US bombing killed about 100 troops, but Veale said the military did not have an exact number for the casualties.
The clash was the biggest confrontation yet between the US military and the Syrian government since US troops arrived in Syria in 2015.
It coincides with heightened tensions between the United States and the Syrian government as the Islamic State war appears to be winding down, leaving eastern Syria roughly partitioned between US-backed forces and the Russian-backed Syrian government.
A deconfliction line establishing the Euphrates River as the divide between the rival forces was negotiated between the US and Russian militaries last year, and until now it has served to mostly keep the armies apart.
The hostilities erupted, he said, after hundreds of fighters backed by tanks and artillery began advancing on rebels in the town of Khisham, five miles east of the deconfliction line. When the advancing forces unleashed a volley of 20-30 tank and artillery rounds toward the base, US warplanes attacked, he said.
The advancing forces were intending to seize nearby oilfields that the US-backed rebels captured from IS last year, Veale said.
Russia on Thursday said the US goal in Syria was not to fight IS, but to capture the country’s economic assets.
The Syrian government has repeatedly called for US troops to leave Syria now that the IS war is over, and has regularly threatened to push them out by force.
The Trump administration last month, however, announced a new Syria strategy that envisages US troops remaining in eastern Syria until there is peace and President Bashar al-Assad is ousted.
Channels of communication between the US and Russia were open throughout the Thursday night clash, Veale said, and the US told Russia before the attack.
Additional reporting by Reuters