WASHINGTON, Sept. 20, 2016 — At the direction of Army Gen. Joseph L. Votel, commander of U.S. Central Command, the command is moving quickly to appoint an investigating officer to look into the airstrike that took place Sept. 17 and reportedly hit Syrian regime forces, a Centcom spokesman said today.
Air Force Col. John J. Thomas briefed the Pentagon press corps by telephone this morning from Centcom headquarters in Tampa, Florida, noting that Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook released a statement Saturday expressing regret for the error if Syrian regime soldiers had been killed.
In the statement, Cook said that the coalition air operations center, or CAOC, notified Russian officials early Saturday that coalition aircraft would be operating against what the coalition believed were Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant forces near Dayr Az Zawr, and the Russians voiced no concerns at that time.
But about 30 to 50 minutes into the airstrike by coalition members that included the United States and other countries, Thomas said a call came into the CAOC from the Russians asking for the person who was designated for that day to be the contact person but who wasn’t near the phone at that moment.
The Russians called back, he said, and the designated representative took the call and learned that the coalition strike supposedly was hitting Syrian regime forces.
In less than 5 minutes, Thomas said, “the call to knock it off was put in place and the attacks ceased.”
He added, “We never had struck regime targets in this conflict, we didn't intend to at the time and we won't in the future. So when we heard that we may be doing that it was our obligation to call knock it off immediately and that's what they did.”
Thomas said coalition members had been observing the target for roughly two full days and believed they had good intelligence on what they we were looking at.
“It was a dynamic target so it wasn't a planned, deliberate strike,” he explained, “but we did take a couple of days to … develop the target and the decision was made by the decision authority that it was a good target after looking at all the intelligence and considering it, so the decision was not made on the spur of the moment, it was vetted through the decision authority.”
A deliberate target is developed over weeks or longer, Thomas said, then is put in a queue and decisions are made about the best times and methods to use to strike them.
“A dynamic target is something we don't necessarily expect to see where we see it but we don't rush into it so it takes about three days from beginning to end for the target to hit the air tasking order and work its way through,” he said.
Anything less than three days is in the dynamic target realm, Thomas said, “and means that we convene a special advisory team to get together … map it out and make a recommendation to the decision authority on whether or not it's worth striking.”
Thomas said the other coalition member countries involved in the air strike will have a role in the investigation “and they are eager to participate with the investigating officer.”(Follow Cheryl Pellerin on Twitter: @PellerinDoDNews)