A US airstrike west of the ISIS capital city of Raqqa hit a forward fighting position held by Kurdish YPG forces, killing at least 18 of the fighters. The US issued “deepest condolences” after the incident, but urged everyone to remain focused on fighting ISIS.
Exactly how this “friendly fire” incident happened isn’t totally clear. US officials claimed that partnered “anti-Assad forces” had told them the location they bombed was an ISIS fighting position, and that they sent a drone to do the attack, though they did not indicate who this other force was.
Though it’s not unusual for the US to accidentally bomb its allies on the ground in its assorted air wars, it also is not uncommon for rival factions to trick the US into bombing one anothers’ sites with false intelligence. This has happened in several countries, notably in Pakistan, where for years US drone strikes were used in the tribal areas as part of family feuds, by claiming rivals were “al-Qaeda leaders.”
In the case of Syria, there is no shortage of rivalries among US-backed forces, and plenty of the Arab-dominated factions don’t like the Kurdish YPG, particularly Arab factions aligned with Turkey. From the US perspective, however, being tricked into attacking the Kurds or killing them through sheer incompetence are both problematic, and it’s likely that the Pentagon will need to offer a more specific excuse in the days to come.