The cruelest irony of a U.S.-led coalition strike that mistakenly killed at least 62 Syrian forces is that rather than damage the Islamic State, as the strikes intended, the coalition may instead been a boon for the terror group.
The Syrian forces based near the eastern city of Deir el-Zour, the site of four strikes Saturday, were a buffer between the citizens of Deir el-Zour and the terror group. And if Syrian troops were hit by a coalition strike, it could lead them to retreat, creating an opening for ISIS to move onto a major city in eastern Syrian.
In recent months, ISIS has made an increasingly aggressive push for the city, putting Syrian government forces on the defensive. While ISIS has launched strikes against the airport, near the site of Saturday’s strikes, the airport has always remained under Syrian government control.
A defense official told The Daily Beast that U.S. Central Command now has concluded it was a mistaken strike and is trying to determine how it made such a big mistake.
The repercussions came swiftly. On Saturday evening, U.S. officials reportedly told their Russian counterparts that they reject the “unintentional loss of life,” essentially admitting responsibility for a strike. And Russia called for an emergency United Nations Security Council session Saturday night.
Around the region, some looked at the strike as proof that the United States created the ISIS threat and now is conducting strikes on its behalf.
“These attacks confirmed that the U.S. clearly supports the terrorism of Daesh,” said SAMA television, a Syrian state-run news outlet, using an Arabic acronym for the Islamic State.
What remains unclear is how the U.S. military could make such a mistake. A U.S. Central Command official told The Daily Beast that U.S. officials monitored the strike site, roughly 30 miles southwest of the city center, for two days before Saturday’s strike.
“There was a tank and other vehicles occupied by ISIS. There were people there who we thought were ISIS,” the CENTCOM official said.