Russian and Syrian regime warplanes bombed USA -backed militia fighters in small villages near al-Bab, a northern Syrian city recently recaptured from the Islamic State group, the top US commander in Iraq and Syria said Wednesday.
Russia's Defense Ministry denied the claim, state-sponsored Sputnik News said. The Syrian Arab Coalition makes up about 60 percent of the Syrian Democratic Forces - the United States' proxy force fighting the Islamic State group in Syria.
Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, the top U.S. commander in the fight against ISIS in Syria and Iraq, said ISIS fighters had withdrawn from the towns and Syrian-Arab coalition troops had moved in.
"The Russians acknowledged and stopped bombing there", Townsend said.
The Russian and Syrian planes, apparently, had seen some ISIS forces recently move out of the area and hit the USA proxies thinking they were ISIS forces, Townsend said.
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Townsend, who commands US forces in Iraq and Syria, said these groups are "bumping up against each other" around the city, adding "three armies and an enemy force have all converged within the same grid square, so it's very hard and complicated" to know just who is where.
Earlier Wednesday, a USA commander accused Russian and Syrian jets of bombing US-backed fighters in Syria.
Russian Federation deployed aircrafts to Syria in late 2015 to aid President Bashar al-Assad in the fight against ISIS, while US troops support the Syrian opposition forces, and the two sides set up a communication channel to avoid getting into each other's air space.
The incident on Tuesday marked the second time in a month that Russian aircraft mistakenly attacked friendly forces. It is near al-Bab where all of the major military forces fighting in Syria have converged "within hand grenade range of one another", Townsend said Wednesday. -Russian military communications link set up during the Obama administration was used in response to the airstrikes that hit US partner forces Tuesday.
And America is trying to support the Kurds while not alienating ally Turkey. He added that the USA asks "all forces to remain focused on the counter-ISIS fight and concentrate their efforts on defeating ISIS, and not toward other objectives that may cause the coalition to divert energy and resources away from Raqqa".
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Speaking at a small American outpost near Manbij, Townsend said that before the push for Raqqa can fully kick off, the whole SDF - Arab and Kurdish alike - are "going to need additional combat power".
A Kurdish fighter from the People's Protection Units, operating alongside the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), in the town of Hisha after the SDF took control of the area from ISIS, in the northern Raqqa countryside, Syria, November 14, 2016.
Currently, about 500 USA troops are in Syria but are not involved in direct combat and are away from the front lines of the fighting. "We used that mechanism and it worked".
"This is something that goes on daily in the air", Townsend said of deconfliction.
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