Moscow Says New US-Led Coalition Strike Near Syrian Al-Tanf 'Illegitimate'
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov called the latest US-led coalition airstrike against Syrian pro-government forces in southern Syria "violation of Syria's sovereignty."
MOSCOW (Sputnik) – The latest US-led coalition airstrike against Syrian pro-government forces in southern Syria severely violated Syria's sovereignty and negatively affected the prospects of political settlement in the crisis-torn country, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Friday.
On Thursday, a US defense official told Sputnik that the US-led coalition fighting the Islamic State terror group (ISIL or Daesh, banned in Russia) conducted a strike near the At Tanf hamlet against Syrian government forces which were operating in an established US-Russian de-escalation zone and posed a threat to forces of the United States and its allies. The coalition's spokesperson told Sputnik that warning shots were fired prior to carrying out the airstrike.
The US-led coalition of 68 nations is conducting airstrikes, ground-based and rocket-propelled artillery fire against the Daesh in Syria and Iraq. The strikes in Iraq are conducted in support of the Iraqi government, but those in Syria are not authorized by the UN Security Council or the government of President Bashar Assad.
The strike on Thursday is a second instance of the US administration under President Donald Trump attacking Syrian territory. On April 6, Washington conducted a missile strike against Syrian government troops at the Ash Sha'irat airbase in the Idlib province. Trump claimed that the strike was a response to an alleged chemical weapon attack in Idlib, an incident which the White House blames on Damascus without providing evidence.
COALITION'S REAL GOALS
The Syrian Defense Ministry confirmed the attack on Friday, saying that the United States used false pretenses to attack its troops.
"The attempts to justify this aggression by the absence of response to a warning to stop the advance are unacceptable," the statement, obtained by Sputnik, read.
The defense ministry urged the coalition to focus on fighting terrorists instead of carrying out attacks on the government forces.
"The Syrian Army is really fighting terrorist groups the Islamic State and the Jabhat Fatah al Sham (both outlawed in Russia) … those, who say that they fight terrorism, should direct their attacks on them and not against the only legitimate Syrian army, which fights terrorism alongside its allies and friends, " according to the statement.
Moscow strongly condemned the coalition's attack on Friday, as evidenced by the public statements of Russia's top foreign officials.
"Whatever the reason for the decisions that the US command made to carry out that strike was, the strike is illegitimate, it is illegal and a regular gross violation of the Syrian Arab Republic's sovereignty," Lavrov told reporters.
Lavrov added that Moscow is inquiring about the details of the strike.
"As for the strike itself, as I know, we are still clarifying all the details, but according to some reports, several dozen civilians died as a result of the strike. I repeat, all this needs to be double-checked," Lavrov said.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov raised concerns about the strike's influence on the process of the political settlement in Syria.
"Any military actions entailing the aggravation of the situation in Syria certainly influence the course of the political process, especially such actions that were committed against the Syrian armed forces," Gatilov said.
The minister stressed that the potentially deadly coalition strike was "absolutely unacceptable" and violated the sovereignty of Damascus.
"This was not an operation against the Islamic State or the Nusra Front [also known as the Jabhat Fatah al Sham]," Gatilov added.
The official also condemned the timeline of the coalition's attack, which took place just a day after an airstrike by the coalition in Syria claimed civilian lives.
"Literally a day before this, a strike was carried out resulting in the deaths of a large number of civilians in Syria, which is also unacceptable and of course does not contribute to the creation of a favorable political environment," Gatilov said.
The coalition's airstrike was not accidental and Washington's explanations only support such allegations, Konstantin Kosachev, the chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Russian upper house of parliament, said.
"The airstrike that the US-led coalition carried out on Thursday on the pro-government Syrian forces could not be considered an accident or a mistake. This was an intentional act, the consequences of which are yet to be assessed," Kosachev wrote on Facebook.
Kosachev also commented on the words of US Defense Secretary James Mattis, who said, referring to the recent airstrike, that Washington was defending its troops and not increasing its role in the Syrian civil war.
"The United States practically admits that they carry out attacks on the pro-government forces of the sovereign state, defending its own military units, which are deployed there illegally, without the authorization of the UN Security Council or the invitation of the country's government. Basically they are the occupation forces. And a party of conflict," the lawmaker underlined.
ACCIDENTAL OR NON-ACCIDENTAL ATTACK
The US-led coalition strike on Thursday was yet another case when the official position of Washington contradicts with the real situation "on the ground," when people, who even by the US point of view are not terrorists, fall victims of such attacks. A number of both accidental and intentional strikes took place during the coalition's military campaign in Syria.
On September 17, 2016, a coalition aircraft carried out four airstrikes against positions of Syrian government troops near Deir ez-Zor, leaving 62 personnel killed and some 100 wounded. The Pentagon said the airstrike was a mistake and targeted militants.
"In this incident, ultimately, we made an unintentional regrettable error primarily based on human factors in several areas in the targeting process," the lead investigator, US Air Force Brig. Gen. Richard Coe said following the probe.
The US investigator noted that coalition forces managed to stop the airstrikes against Syrian forces due to Russian warnings.
"We would not have stopped the strike, but for the phone call from the Russians … They would have continued longer, so we are certainly grateful for that phone call," Coe said.
The US official added that the coalition accidentally provided the Russian military with inaccurate information about the planned airstrike on September 17.
"In that first phone call we made to Russians, we unintentionally passed erroneous information on the location of the strikes … Specifically the location we gave to Russia was off by several kilometers," Coe said.
Then on April 4, the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces blamed the Syrian government for the incident in Khan Sheikhoun, which allegedly involved the use of chemical weapons. Damascus denied any involvement in the incident and the Syrian army said it did not possess chemical weapons as they had been destroyed by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).
However the Western powers rushed to condemn Damascus, while Russia insisted on a proper investigation and said the incident was likely the result of an airstrike on a militant weapons cache rather than a deliberate attack.
Despite the lack of the investigation's conclusion, the incident was used by the United States as pretext for a missile strike on April 7, launching 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at Syria's military airfield in Ash Sha'irat.
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