US defence chief regrets Iraq friendly fire incident

US defence chief Ash Carter calls deadly friendly fire incident in Iraq "mistake"

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

US Defense Secretary Ash Carter testifies before a House Armed Services Committee hearing on "US Strategy for Syria and Iraq and its Implications for the Region" in Washington on December 1, 2015.

US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter has admitted that an error by US-led coalition forces that are currently carrying out air strikes against DAESH terrorists in Iraq was responsible for the death of at least nine Iraqi soldiers.

Speaking to reporters during his visit to the USS Kearsarge amphibious assault ship on Saturday, Carter said the casualties occurred due to "a mistake that involved both sides,” marking what is believed to be the first friendly fire incident since operations began in Sept. 2014.

Carter also said that he had spoken to Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al Abadi in a telephone conversation to express his condolences after the accident, which occurred on Friday near Iraq’s western city of Fallujah.

"He (Abadi) and I agreed that this was an event that we both regretted and that there would be an investigation of it," Carter said, having indicated that the air strike was carried out by a US aircraft.

According to Iraqi Minister of Defence Khaled al Obeidi, the air strikes had been requested by the Iraqi government amid a ground offensive by Iraqi troops because bad weather conditions made it difficult for Iraqi helicopters to participate in the mission.

Iraqi mourners on Saturday carry the body of one of the soldiers killed the previous day by a US-led coalition air strike that US officials called accidental.

"These kinds of things happen when you're fighting side by side as we are," Carter said, adding that the incident was "regrettable" and “"has all the indications of being a mistake of the kind that can happen on a dynamic battlefield."

Carter, who was abroad visiting Afghanistan at the time of the incident, had met with Abadi on Monday to discuss ongoing operations against the DAESH terrorist group.

He also spent Saturday visiting the French Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf and is due to travel to Moscow on Sunday, where he will attend talks regarding the war in Syria.

On Sept. 30 of this year, Russia launched its own campaign of air strikes against DAESH in Syria, parallel to year-old operations by the US-led coalition in the country.

The Russian operations have led to an increasing coordination between the Washington and Moscow to avoid a direct conflict between the two superpowers in Syria, especially since Russia has supported Bashar al Assad’s regime throughout the war, while the US calls for his removal.

On Friday, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council - the US, the UK, Russia, China and France - all agreed to initiate a nationwide ceasefire in Syria as of Jan. 1 in order to introduce a transition phase to end the conflict.

TRTWorld and agencies