POLITICS

Malcolm Turnbull Expresses 'Regret' For Botched Syria Operation

Syrian soldiers were mistaken for the IS militants they were fighting

19/09/2016 8:25 AM AEST | Updated 19/09/2016 1:51 PM AEST
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Defence Department
Two of the RAAF’s Air Task Group's (ATG) F/A-18A Hornets

CANBERRA -- Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has expressed "regret" for any role Australia may have had in a botched Coalition operation in Syria which has killed more than 62 Syrian soldiers and injured dozens more.

Pressure is increasing between the United States and Russia, and a tenuous week-old ceasefire in Syria is under renewed threat, over what were understood to be four U.S-led airstrikes around the Deir ez-Zor military airport in Syria's east.

Dozens of Syrian soldiers, who had been fighting Islamic State militants, were apparently mistaken for IS fighters. Between 62 and 90 soldiers have been reported killed.

It's not been explained exactly what role Australian aircraft took in the sortie, but the Prime Minister has expressed "regret" for Australia's actions and described the conflict zone as "very, very complicated".
Prime Minister's Office
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull with Lucy Turnbull visit the 9/11 Memorial in NYC

"I can say that as soon as the coalition commanders were advised by the Russian command in the region that Syrian forces had been affected, the sortie was discontinued," Mr Turnbull told reporters during a visit to New York City ahead of the UN General Assembly.

"Australian aircraft were involved as part of the Coalition.

"We regret the loss of life and injury to any Syrian personnel affected."

It is understood the US investigation is focusing on an "intelligence failure," while Mr Turnbull has indicated concern about "co-ordination."

"Clearly coordination is desirable, I think there – well, I won't speculate," he said.

"You will find over the next little while no doubt, arguments or issues about why there wasn't more coordination, or who was meant to be advising whom, but I'm not going to get into the element of speculation."

Overnight, Russia accused the U.S. of aiding Islamic State and called an emergency session of the UN Security Council to condemn the raid. In turn, the U.S. has described Russia's actions as "cheap point-scoring", "grandstanding" and a "stunt".

Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said the Russian officials had been earlier warned that coalition aircraft would be operating in that area, and "no concerns were voiced at that time."

The Defence Department had earlier confirmed Australian involvement.

"Australia would never intentionally target a known Syrian military unit or actively support Daesh," Defence said in a statement.

"Defence offers its condolences to the families of any Syrian personnel killed or wounded in this incident."

Australia is participating in a U.S-led review of the incident, while the Greens, Independent MP Andrew Wilkie and Senator Nick Xenophon have called for a review into Australia's role in the botched airstrikes.

"An independent inquiry is essential to ensure this doesn't happen again," Senator Xenophon said.

"For instance, the implications of a botched operation in the South China Sea could be profound for Australia."

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