Beirut – Eighteen members of the Syrian Democratic Forces were killed in a misdirected airstrike as the forces launched on Thursday an operation to regain control of the ISIS stronghold of Raqqa in northern Syria.
The airstrike by the US-led coalition this week killed 18 allied fighters battling ISIS in northern Syria, the US military said Thursday.
US Central Command said coalition aircraft were given the wrong coordinates by their partner forces, the predominantly-Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces, for the strike on Tuesday that was intended to target ISIS militants south of their Tabqa stronghold, near the extremists’ de facto capital, Raqqa. The strike hit an SDF position instead.
Several nations have lent their air power to the US-led coalition to defeat the ISIS, and it wasn’t clear which air force was behind the errant strike.
The SDF acknowledged the strike, saying a number of its fighters were killed and wounded. On Thursday, the group held funerals for 17 of its fighters in the border town of Tal al-Abyad, the SDF-linked Hawar news agency said, though it did not say whether they were killed in the misdirected strike.
An activist-run group, Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently, said three days of mourning had been declared for the town. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 25 SDF fighters were killed in the last two days of battle.
The SDF, meanwhile, announced the launch of a new phase of its campaign to retake Raqqa. The Kurdish fighters, with US-led air and ground support, have surrounded Tabqa, some 40 kilometers (25 miles) southwest of the city and are working to clear ISIS militants out of Jalab Valley, north of Raqqa.
The SDF says it wants to isolate Raqqa before attacking it. Its closest position is less than eight kilometers (five miles) northeast of the city. But the countryside south of Raqqa is still under ISIS control.
Meanwhile, media linked to ISIS claimed that 20 Americans and Kurds were killed and wounded in an attack launched by the terror group.
SDF General Command advisor Nasser al-Hajj Mansour told Asharq Al-Awsat that there is no official information about this issue. Washington did not confirm or deny the ISIS claim.
Mansour added that the delay in the battle for Raqqa can be attributed to the “fierce fight the militants are putting up in defending the city and the SDF and allied forces’ attempt to avoid killing civilians as they try to retake it.”