As has been the case since the deadly Syrian civil war began seven years ago, conflicting reports about an airstrike appear to be emerging from the ground.
Syria’s state news agency SANA reported the U.S. conducted an airstrike in al-Harra, southeast of the town of Albu Kamal, causing an unspecified number of deaths and injuries, according to Reuters. A commander representing Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s state alliance said drones, which were “probably American,” bombed Syrian military positions as well as those of Iraqi factions between Albu Kamal and Tanf. But the commander refused to give out any specificities about the death toll resulting from the alleged attack.
More concrete information was provided by Iraq’s Popular Mobilisation Forces, a group consisting largely of Iran-backed Shi’ite paramilitaries, which claimed that the aforementioned U.S. military attack on the Iraqi border with Syria killed 22 members and injured 12 others.
“At 22:00 last night a U.S. plane hit a fixed headquarters of the Popular Mobilisation Forces’ 45th and 46th brigades defending the border strip with Syria using two guided missiles which lead to the martyrdom of 22 fighters.”
But the United States military has denied the reports, with Major Josh Jacques of the U.S. Central Command telling Reuters that no airstrikes were carried out near Albu Kamal.
It is not unusual for the U.S. to use air power and special forces to support the alliance comprising of Syrian Arab and Kurdish militia fighting against the Islamic State. The United States remains keen to dislodge President Bashar al-Assad, while he continues to have support from Iran’s government, the Hezbollah, Russia, as well as some Iraqi groups.
Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitor group, has confirmed that airstrikes were carried out near Albu Kamal, but said the planes remain unidentified. It said that up to 52 people had died from the attacks.
But the United States does not claim responsibility, with Israel following suit. Refusing to comment on the attack, an Israeli military spokesperson said that a foreign attack on Syrian soil was not its business.
But Israel President Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is known to share a good relationship with U.S. President Donald Trump, is reportedly alarmed at the increasing clout of Iran-backed groups in Syria. Netanyahu reached out to Russian President Vladimir Putin this weekend, pressing him not to allow Iran to make Syria its military stronghold.
“First of all, Iran must clear out of all of Syria,” he said. “Secondly, we will take action, and are already taking action, against the attempted military entrenchment of Iran and its proxies, both close to the border and deep within Syria.”