Syria says US-led strike hits troops in east, US denies
Beirut – Syrian state media reported Monday that an airstrike against pro-government forces in the far east of the country caused casualties, an attack that Iraqi officials said killed at least 25 Shiite paramilitaries and was just across the border from its own territory.
The Syrian state TV report blamed the attack on the U.S.-led coalition battling the Islamic State group, saying it occurred around midnight in the village of al-Hari, to the southeast of the border town of Boukamal. But a coalition spokesman denied that, saying it had not carried out any strikes in the area.
The state TV report, quoting an unnamed military official, gave no breakdown of the casualties other than saying there “were several martyrs and others were wounded.”
In Baghdad, Iraqi officials said state-sanctioned Shiite paramilitaries came under attack south of the town of Qaim, just across the border from Boukamal. They said 25 fighters were killed, three are missing and about 30 were wounded. But did not give details into how the attack was carried out, saying only that investigations were under way, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
The officials said the dead were mostly members of Iraq’s Hezbollah Brigades, which have been active in Syria’s civil war fighting alongside government forces. Also killed were some members of the Sayyed al-Shuhada Battalions, they said.
U.S. military spokesman Col. Sean Ryan said the coalition was looking into the reports.
“We are aware of the strike near Boukamal, however there have been no strikes by U.S. or coalition forces in that area,” he said. “We’re looking into who that could possibly be, but it wasn’t the U.S. or the coalition.”
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitor, said the airstrike killed 38 foreign fighters allied with the Syrian government, mostly Iraqis. Shiite militias fighting alongside government forces in Syria include large numbers of Iraqi, Lebanese and Afghan fighters.
Last week, IS launched a major offensive against Boukamal, reaching the outskirts of the town before being pushed back by government forces. The loss of the town would deal a major blow to Iran-backed forces on both sides of the border, who have established a corridor through eastern Syria to link Iran to the Mediterranean Sea.
Syrian and Iraqi forces have driven IS from virtually all the territory it once held in both countries, but the militants still control some remote areas along the border.
Syrian troops and allied militias, backed by Russian airstrikes, have been conducting operations west of the Euphrates River, while the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, a Kurdish-led militia, is operating on the eastern banks. The U.S.-led coalition has struck pro-government forces in the past when they have tried to cross the river. The overnight attacks took place on the western side.