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Department Of Defense Investigates U.S.-Led Coalition Airstrike In Syria


The Syrian cease-fire that started less than a week ago continues to unravel. The U.S. has been supporting opposition forces trying to unseat President Bashar al-Assad. Russia has been supporting Assad's regime. The cease-fire agreement happened because the U.S. and Russia decided to work together and coordinate airstrikes against ISIS in Syria. But then yesterday, a U.S.-led airstrike that was supposed to target the Islamic State instead hit some of Bashar al-Assad's forces. Russia then accused the U.S. of actually supporting ISIS. Russia also said they'd call an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council. It's a complicated situation with serious consequences for the region.

To talk more, we're joined by Liz Sly of The Washington Post. She's been following developments from Beirut, and she joins us via Skype. Liz, thanks so much for being with us.

LIZ SLY: Thank you.

MARTIN: What more can you tell us about how this airstrike on Syrian government troops happened? This is a grave mistake.

SLY: Well, yes, we don't really know many details about how it happened. First of all, we had an allegation from the Syrian government. Then we had a very angry statement from the Russians saying that this strike had killed over 60 Syrian soldiers. Then we heard from the Pentagon, which said it had called off a strike in that area at the location mentioned after receiving telephone calls from Russia to say these are Syrian troops, stop bombing. They called off the strike. Now, they did say that they had informed Russia in advance about this location of the strike. They said that - hit it before, that ISIS has been there before. Apparently, the front lines had moved and the Pentagon didn't know the front lines had moved.

MARTIN: So it took so long to craft this cease-fire agreement. It was very fragile from the get-go. Now what are the odds that the cease-fire will hold after this strike?

SLY: Well, it's looking very, very shaky indeed. I don't think anybody ever held out much hope that this cease-fire was going to work. It really wasn't premised on any solution to the Syrian war. It was premised more on U.S.-Russian cooperation than it is about events on the ground in Syria. And neither site on the ground is particularly interested in cooperation, so all of them are very skeptical about the cease-fire in the first place. And this strike has come at an extremely inopportune time. We're supposed to start the U.S.-Russian cooperation tomorrow. Instead we have probably got huge amounts of diplomatic traffic between Moscow and Washington trying to unravel this mess that has occurred, and the cease-fire itself has sort of gone by the by.

MARTIN: What does this mean for the humanitarian crisis? I mean, the cease-fire was in essence supposed to give U.N. aid workers in particular the opportunity to finally get supplies in, especially to Aleppo, where the devastation has been so severe.

SLY: Well, this was why we could already see that the cease-fire wasn't working because the terms of the deal were that there would be a pause in fighting for seven days during which aid would flow unimpeded to these areas and especially Aleppo. Now, on the fifth day of that, which was yesterday, we still hadn't seen any aid move, so the cease-fire already wasn't working. Now, last night at the U.N. the Russian ambassador said, oh, it was going to move this morning. It was all ready to move. But now we don't know if it will. But you don't know whether it would have or not because they haven't done it in the past five days. So that key plank of the cease-fire had already basically gone.

MARTIN: Liz Sly is the Beirut bureau chief for The Washington Post. She's been monitoring the situation in Syria. Thank you so much for joining us.

SLY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.