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Syrian ops continue despite botched raid

AAP logoAAP 18/09/2016 Rashida Yosufzai

Australia will continue its air operations in Syria, despite a review into how coalition forces allegedly killed more than 60 Syrian troops in a bombing raid.

RAAF aircraft were involved in air strikes on what was believed to be an Islamic State fighting position in eastern Syria on Sunday.

The strikes were called off when Russian officials told air operations controllers the targets may have been Syrian military personnel.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said Australia regretted the loss of life and injury to Syrian personnel.

"It is a very complex environment and as soon as the coalition commanders were advised by the Russians that Syrian forces were being affected, the operation discontinued," he told reporters in New York.

He said it remained to be seen whether it impacted on the already brittle ceasefire.

Defence Minister Marise Payne said Australia would never intentionally target a known Syrian military unit or actively support Islamic State.

She said Australia would cooperate with an international review, however operations would continue.

"We will continue in an appropriate and measured way with the international coalition to do what is required, but there has been no hold put on Australia's activity," she said in Sydney on Monday.

"Our commitment is to eliminate the threat of Daesh."

She said Australia was seeking an end to hostilities, access for humanitarian aid and a path to a political solution in Syria.

The minister declined to say what Australian aircraft were involved, but it is known the RAAF operations involve Super Hornet bombers, a refuelling aircraft and a Wedgetail early warning and control aircraft.

RAAF personnel would not be exposed to any legal action as the target had been assessed as legitimate under the laws of armed conflict, Senator Payne said.

A Pentagon spokesman said Russian officials had not voiced any concerns about the operation, in the Dayr Az Zawr area, when first notified of it.

Acting Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce said the loss of Syrian soldiers is tragic but the greater tragedy would be letting Islamic State extremists win.

"We have to make sure we beat these people."

Australia Strategic Policy Institute director Peter Jennings said he did not recall a similar incident over the past two years.

"We've been extremely careful over two years to make sure that we don't engage in any strikes which lead to civilian deaths or the deaths of non-combatants."

He said a communications failure was the likely cause, as the Russians had issued their advice half an hour into the air strikes.

"I think this is the result of the lack of trust which seems to be created between the Russians and in particular the US right now.

"We have come to the end of the ceasefire as a viable moment in the war."

The Greens and South Australian senator Nick Xenophon have called for a separate, independent review into Australia's role.

"We need to know what went wrong and why because if we don't learn from the mistakes of this botched operation then there is a risk it may be repeated," Senator Xenophon said.

Independent MP Andrew Wilkie said it was in the public interest to conduct an Australian inquiry into the "tragic foul-up", especially given there could be mistakes made by the coalition leadership.

"It makes sense to find out ourselves what went on and not rely on people who could be conflicted," he told ABC TV.

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