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U.S. general: Russian warplanes accidentally bombed US-backed rebels in Syria

U.S. general: Russian warplanes accidentally bombed US-backed rebels in Syria

Russian and Syrian regime forces bombed US -backed fighters Tuesday in villages near the Syrian city of al-Bab in an incident that the top USA general in the region said may have been a mistake.

Army Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, commander of the USA -led coalition forces in Iraq and Syria, said an unspecified number of American military advisers were a few miles away, out of immediate danger but close enough to see their Syrian partners get hit.

Army Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, who leads the fight against the Islamic State in both Iraq and Syria, told reporters Wednesday that he believes the pilots thought they were bombing militants, not the Syrian Democratic Forces that the United States trains and advises.

"Not a single air strike on the regions specified by the USA side was conducted by Russian or Syrian air forces", the statement said.

Townsend said Wednesday that the deconfliction hotline worked to stop the bombing, and that in al-Bab different kinds of forces are "literally within hand-grenade range of each other".

Townsend did not comment on relations with Russian other than to mention that a U.S.

The Syrian Arab Coalition fights under the umbrella of the Syrian Democratic Forces, an anti-ISIS, anti-Qaeda, anti-Assad coalition now leading the major Wrath of Euphrates offensive to oust ISIS from their capital, Raqqa. Islamic State fighters had been in the area but had left to get away from advancing forces, including rebels backed by Turkey.

The top United States commander overseeing the counter-ISIS mission in Iraq and Syria downplayed the chances Wednesday of the USA deploying a large number of troops to the region, as President Donald Trump weighs routes to speed up the campaign.

"Everybody should keep their sights focused on ISIS, and that's what we ought to keep our efforts focused on and not fighting deliberately or accidentally with one another", he said. Last month, they mistakenly bombed Turkish soldiers near the city, killing three.

The airstrikes took place in a village near al-Bab, 9-12 miles from Manbij where Syrian Arab Coalition fighters were on the ground.

The U.S. mission strategy is to operate by, with and through local partners. Ilnur Cevik, an adviser to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erodgan, said on Monday that "without Russia's support, we would not have been able to conduct a successful operation in al-Bab". Since 2014, US -backed forces - and more recently Turkish military forces - have been targeting the Islamic State group, which has steadily ceded ground across northern and eastern Syria.

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