This story is over 5 years old.


Everything We Know About Australia's Role in the Bombings That Ended the Syrian Ceasefire

On Sunday night two Australian F18s mistakenly launched a strike on a Syrian army base. Less the 48 hours later, Syria's delicate truce has fallen over.

An F/A-18E Super Hornet conducting bilateral operations with the US. Image via.

On Monday morning, news broke of Australia's involvement in the injury and death of over 150 Syrian soldiers, as part of a US-led military offensive. The Western coalition maintains that a team of five jet fighters was targeting ISIS positions on the Tharda mountain, but accidently struck a Syrian government military base.

The incident was first reported by the Syria Observatory for Human Rights. They alleged that after the Syrian position was destroyed, "IS militants were able to take control on the artillery brigade around the military airport."


Australia's misfire came in the midst of a fragile ceasefire, brokered by the US and Russia—an attempt to halt violence in the bloody five-year Syrian conflict. However, as this event coincided with another bungled attack, the Syrian military have since declared the ceasefire officially over.

So how did this all come about?

As mentioned, the bombing came at the end of a crumbling seven-day ceasefire. The truce had been designed to deliver humanitarian aid, establish joint targeting of IS fighters, and endorse an end to the war. Then this attack occurred on Sunday night, Australian time.

The Department of Defence confirmed two Australian RAAF F18 Super Hornet aircrafts played a role in the botched bombing, which killed between 62 and 83 Syrian military soldiers and left dozens wounded.

Australian Defence Minister Marise Payne later told media the Syrian soldiers had been mistaken for Islamic State militants, and were killed as part of a mission in Dayr Az Zawr, one of Syria's largest cities, located in the country's east. It's since emerged that the safeguards Australia usually employs for airstrikes on IS in Iraq—waiting on confirmation of the target from the ground—didn't apply for this attack.

In the same statement, the Defence Minister also raised ire from commentators, assuring Australian airstrikes will continue in Syria. "We will continue in an appropriate, measured way with the international coalition, to do what is required, but there has been no holders as such put on Australian activity," she told the ABC.


These statements from Marise Payne contradict allegations from the Syrian and Russian governments, accusing the US-led coalition of launching the attack deliberately, in order to help Islamic State and other rebel groups overthrow the Assad Regime. A senior adviser to President Bashar al-Assad told the ABC the strike was "intentional" and "none of the facts on the ground show that what happened was a mistake or a coincidence."

In a statement on Sunday, the Russian Foreign Ministry had even alleged the strikes were "on the boundary between criminal negligence and direct connivance with Islamic State terrorists".

As a result of the ensuing tensions, climbing fatalities, and political paranoia, an emergency UN Security Council meeting was called by Russian commanders Sunday evening. However, the meeting was cancelled—allegedly because the US did not want to make public details of its ceasefire deal with Russia.

US envoy to the UN, Samantha Power, did admit American responsibility, but lambasted Russian leaders for accusing further wrongdoing rather than negotiating peace. She also criticised Russia for blocking UN measures against the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad, and for the barrel bombing and chemical warfare attacks against civilian populations in rebel-held cities.

Malcolm Turnbull expressed regret about Australia's role in the Syrian military deaths on Monday. "As soon as the commanders were advised that there were Syrian Government forces affected the operation was discontinued," the Prime Minister told reporters in New York, where he's attending a UN summit.

Australian politicians, including members of the Labor Party; Independent MP Nick Xenophon and Greens Defence spokesperson, Scott Ludlum, have called for an independent domestic review of the incident.

On Tuesday, the UN confirmed an additional aid convoy had been hit by another botched airstrike in Syria's Aleppo province, killing 12 people—most of them aid workers. "The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said the attacks were carried out by either Syrian or Russian aircraft," Reuters reported, adding already "there had been 35 strikes in and around Aleppo since the truce ended."

All reports indicate that hopes for salvaging the ceasefire are quickly fading.

Follow Angela on Twitter.