Washington (CNN)Russian warplanes bombed U.S. backed Syrian rebels near the Jordanian border, Pentagon officials say, causing the U.S. to divert armed aircraft to the scene of the strike.
The strikes, which the U.S. says killed some New Syrian Army troops, occurred about six miles from the Jordanian border, according to a U.S. defense official. The U.S. diverted armed FA-18s to the area after the first round of two strikes, and the pilots then tried to call the Russians on a previously agreed-upon pilot-to-pilot communications channel but did not receive an answer.
As soon as the U.S. jets left the area to refuel, the Russians came back for another round of bombing, the defense official said.
“Russian aircraft conducted a series of airstrikes near al-Tanf against Syrian counter-ISIL forces that included individuals who have received U.S. support. Russian aircraft have not been active in this area of Southern Syria for some time, and there were no Syrian regime or Russian ground forces in the vicinity,” a senior defense official said. “Russia’s latest actions raise serious concern about Russian intentions. We will seek an explanation from Russia on why it took this action and assurances this will not happen again.”
The first two bombing runs by the Russians were carried out by two SU-24 Russian jets coming out of their base near Latakia. The jets dropped what is believed to be the equivalent of U.S. 500-pound bombs and possibly cluster munitions, according to the U.S. defense official.
Asked about the strikes Friday, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said it raised questions about whether the Russians were actually in Syria to fight Islamic extremists.
“Here’s a case where they actually attacked forces that were fighting ISIL. And if that was their intention, that’s the opposite of what they said they were going to do,” Carter said. “If not, then it says something about the quality of the information upon which they make airstrikes.”
U.S. and Russian forces in Syria have had tense relations since the country devolved into civil war. The U.S. has backed rebel groups while the Russians have supported Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.