In this photo provided by the Russian Defense Ministry Press Service shows Russian air force Tu-22M3 bombers strike the Islamic State targets in Syria, Monday, Jan. 23, 2017.
Turks, their Free Syrian Army allies, ISIS, Syrian regime forces, and the US -backed Syrian Arab Coalition and Kurdish forces are "literally within hand grenade range of each other", Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend told reporters at the Pentagon Wednesday.
US forces were in the area - about three miles away - when the airstrikes took place, though no Americans were hit.
Townsend said Wednesday that the deconfliction hotline worked to stop the bombing, and that in al-Bab different kinds of forces are "literally within hand-grenade range of each other".
Forces of the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad, backed by Russian airstrikes, have moved into the region from the south. Elements of the Turkish military supporting the Free Syrian Army militia are also operating against ISIS in the area.
Townsend, who commands US forces in Iraq and Syria, said these groups are "bumping up against each other" around the city, adding "three armies and an enemy force have all converged within the same grid square, so it's very hard and complicated" to know just who is where.
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He referred to the Syrian forces to disclose the number and extent of the casualties.
The incident on Tuesday marked the second time in a month that Russian aircraft mistakenly attacked friendly forces.
The top United States commander overseeing the counter-ISIS mission in Iraq and Syria downplayed the chances Wednesday of the USA deploying a large number of troops to the region, as President Donald Trump weighs routes to speed up the campaign. "The ISIS fighters withdrew, and the Syrian Arab Coalition fighters advanced into those villages", the general explained. Stephen Townsend said during a briefing. While the 50,000-strong force faces "the problem of supply, the problem of training, and problems of positioning the force", those things can be worked out fairly rapidly, "if we get the authorities we need" from Washington, he said.
"There were USA forces in the area", he added.
To avoid mishaps in the air the US and Russian militaries are notifying each side about where they are operating, but they are not coordinating by sharing intelligence and targeting information.
Currently, about 500 US troops are in Syria but are not involved in direct combat and are away from the front lines of the fighting.