MOSCOW/ANKARA (Reuters) - The Kremlin and the Turkish military gave conflicting accounts on Friday of who was responsible for the accidental death of three Turkish soldiers in Russian air strikes in Syria.
The “friendly fire” incident occurred during an operation against Islamic State near the northern Syrian city of al-Bab on Thursday, highlighting the risk of unintended clashes between the numerous outside powers in a complex war. [nL5N1FU3WP]
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the air strikes had been launched based on coordinates provided to Russia by the Turkish military.
“Unfortunately, our military, while carrying out strikes on terrorists, was guided by coordinates given to them by our Turkish partners, and Turkish servicemen should not have been present on those coordinates,” he told a conference call with reporters.
“It was a lack of coordination in providing coordinates, that is how I would formulate it.”
The Turkish military said it regularly shared information with Russia about its operations in Syria as part of a deal in place with Moscow since Jan. 12.
It said it had given the coordinates of the building where the soldiers were killed to its Russian counterparts a day before the incident.
The soldiers had been in the same spot for 10 days, the Turkish military said, noting that their position had been communicated to Russia’s Khmeimim air base in Syria, and in person to the Russian military attache in Ankara.
Russia is a major ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, while Turkey supports the rebels who oppose him. In 2015, Turkey shot down a Russian air force jet that it said had crossed into Turkish airspace, though Moscow denied any incursion.
The two countries have since repaired relations and have been coordinating efforts against Islamic State in al-Bab.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Tayyip Erdogan spoke by phone after the incident and agreed to step up military coordination against Islamic State.
Speaking with reporters in the city of Afyon, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus said on Friday it was important that Putin had expressed his condolences to Erdogan.
“From our side the issue is being investigated. Initial information shows this was an accident ... and an undesired incident as a result of incorrect information, coordinates,” Kurtulmus said in televised comments.
“It has been understood that closer coordination is required, both with the coalition and with Russia.”
Reporting by Christian Lowe in Moscow and Humeyra Pamuk in Istanbul; Editing by Andrew Osborn and Louise Ireland