10 February 2017

Syria war: Russian ‘friendly fire’ kills Turkish soldiers


President Vladimir Putin has sent condolences after a Russian air strike accidentally killed three Turkish soldiers in northern Syria.

The soldiers were supporting Syrian rebels in efforts to capture the city of al-Bab from so-called Islamic State.

It is part of a broader offensive by Turkey to push IS and Kurdish fighters away from Turkey’s southern border.

Russia and Turkey, who back opposing sides in the war, have been jointly targeting IS in air strikes recently.

A Russian aircraft attacked a building where some of the soldiers had been deployed near al-Bab, the Turkish military said.

‘Tragic incident’

It had been planning to hit IS targets but “by accident three of our soldiers were martyred when a building was bombed where our units were”, it added.

Eleven other soldiers were wounded in the so-called friendly fire incident on Thursday.

The Kremlin has issued a statement (in Russian) saying President Putin had, in a telephone call with his Turkish counterpart, “expressed condolences over a tragic incident which resulted in the deaths of several Turkish troops in the al-Bab area”.

President Putin told Recep Tayyip Erdogan that poor co-ordination between Moscow and Ankara was to blame for the accident, RIA news agency reports.

The two leaders also agreed to “increase military co-operation during operations in Syria against IS militants and other extremist organisations”.

Both countries are conducting a joint investigation, Turkey’s military said.

The incident comes after a warming of relations between the two countries, which had previously been strained after Turkey downed a Russian jet near the Syrian border two years ago.

Earlier on Thursday, Turkish-backed rebel fighters managed to capture the western outskirts of al-Bab, which lies about 30km (20 miles) south of Turkey. Turkish media say 10 Turkish soldiers have been killed in the fighting in recent days.

The Dogan news agency says 66 Turkish troops have been killed in Syria since Turkey began its operations there last August to drive out IS, as well as stop the advance of the Kurdish YPG militia – which Turkey considers a terror organisation.

The Turkish-backed Syrian rebels have been battling IS for the city of al-Bab since late 2016.

Syrian government forces, meanwhile, are also closing in on IS from the south, where fierce fighting is reported.

Reports suggest the rebels and government forces have reached an accommodation over al-Bab, orchestrated by Syria’s key alley, Russia.

The two sides are now within 3km of each other on opposite sides of the city.

Despite supporting opposing sides, Russia and Turkey have joined forces in recent months to try to end the Syria conflict.

They carried out their first joint air strikes on IS targets in the al-Bab area in January, just weeks after securing a ceasefire deal between rebels and government forces that has held in many parts of Syria since the end of last year.

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