Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Who ordered the bombings?

Within the space of three of four days we have seen two terrible aerial attacks in Syria. In the first, over the weekend, planes of the US and its allies attacked Syrian forces in Deir Azzor where they were under siege by ISIS fighters. In the second, yesterday, planes attacked UN aid convoys carrying relief supplies to the besieged inhabitants of Alleppo.  Over 60 Syrian soldiers were killed in the first attack and over 20 people were reported killed in the aid convoy attack.

What was the purpose of these attacks and who ordered them?

We know who carried out the Deir Azzor attack. The US, Australia, Denmark and the UK have admitted that it was planes of their countries that carried out the bombing. The US claimed it was an error made in the heat of battle and that the intended target was ISIS. There was a public apology. Nevertheless to see US Ambassador Samantha Power walking out of the UN Security Council meeting when Russia brought up the bombing, and then dismiss her Russian counterpart's action as a 'stunt' was truly sickening. She expressed no signs of remorse and no recognition that planes of foreign nations had attacked the troops of a sovereign nation on its own territory. And she is a diplomat? It is said that she is hoping for a senior position in a Hillary Clinton administration. God help us.

Does the US claim of a tragic accident hold up?

There is a tendency for armchair pundits, like myself, to see the war as a conflict between various 'players' like the Syrian Government, ISIS, the USA, Russia, Al Nusra etc. and then to ask which players were responsible and what did they stand to gain. But this is probably too simple a way of looking at things, in that each of these players comprises a number of factions many with their own agendas. With the chaos that is prevailing in Syria it is easy for any faction to act without official approval from those nominally overseeing it.

This I suspect is what happened in the US strike on the Syrian army at Deir Azzor. It seems unlikely that it was an accident - the Syrian troops were at an army base and airfield which has been in Government hands for months. Furthermore within ten minutes of the strike ISIS troops moved in to attack the base. From the outside it looks like a coordinated attack on the government troops holding the airfield. To believe the official Washington story (that it was an accident) one would have to believe that the US powers of reconnaissance and intelligence were particularly inept and they couldn't distinguish between troops holding a base (where they had been under siege for months) and their attackers.

It seems hard to believe that President Obama would have ordered such a strike, which aided ISIS, seeing how Donald Trump has accused him of being a founder of ISIS and seeing also how much time and effort Secretary of State John Kerry had put into negotiating a truce with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov.

So what happened? I suspect it was the US military acting without approval from the White House. Whether they would have had the approval of Defence Secretary, Ash Carter, is not clear, but I wouldn't be at all surprised to hear that they did. After all Carter had fought Kerry tooth and nail to prevent such a deal with Russia.  Many in the military are known to have had serious reservations about cooperating with the Russian military in going after ISIS, which was supposed to happen after the cease-fire had held for a week.

Seen from this perspective, the act of bombing Syrian troops seems like a attempt to sabotage the cease-fire deal, and at the same time deal a blow to the Assad regime. It also lent support to the terror groups which have been receiving arms and assistance for some time from US agencies or its proxies. The CIA has reportedly been heavily involved in this.

It is perhaps tragically ironic that the cease-fire would probably have collapsed without this murderous attack, which has made the US look very bad in the eyes of the world. One of the conditions of the cease-fire was that the so-called "moderate opposition" fighters had to separate themselves from the Nusra brigades. That wasn't going to happen. If there were indeed any moderate opposition groups in Alleppo, there is no way that the Nusra terrorists would have allowed them to leave, or separate, even if the moderates had wanted to. If East Alleppo was seen to have been cleared of non-jihadi forces, then there would be nothing to stop their enemies from increasing their bombing until no living being remained.

I find it interesting too that Australian, British and Danish planes were involved in the attack along with US ones. By implicating these allies in the bombing, the chance of condemnation from their governments was lessened. Whether the military commanders of these forces in Syria had any idea of whom they are attacking is an interesting question. I doubt if their governments knew, especially given that White House probably didn't know. I imagine there was a lot of people being bawled out over the phones this past weekend.

French planes were not involved. Maybe they weren't invited. After the ISIS attacks in Paris it would have put the French government in a very uncomfortable position if it was seen to be aiding ISIS.

Turning now to the bombing of the aid convoys. Both the Syrian Air Force and the Russian Air Force have been accused. Both have denied it. The US has claimed that the raid was a sophisticated 'double strike' in which the planes returned for a second time to attack the rescuers who had come to the aid of the injured after the first attack. This, it was claimed, pointed to a Russian action, with the implied suggestion that poor dumb Arabs couldn't coordinate anything so sophisticated.   

On this one there are accusations but apparently very little evidence one way or another.  Again it could be a rogue element or a faction in the Syrian or Russian militaries.  But I somehow doubt that would happen in the Russian military.  Anyone who undertook such an action without President Putin's approval would find themselves in a very sticky position.  I imagine senior officers in the Syrian Air Force would have more leeway.  After all Assad's continuation in power depends upon the support of his military.  Terrible hatreds must have built up over the past five years of fighting and I find it quite plausible that some air force officers, perhaps believing that weapons were coming in along with humanitarian aid, might decide that such a convoy was fair game. It is despicable and no doubt a war crime.  

The morass seems to be deepening.  Turkey has increased its incursion and now plans to hold a strip of land 30 kms. wide from its border, which will take its forces close to Aleppo.   This is nothing short of an invasion of another sovereign country.  Meanwhile US, NATO and Gulf State countries violate sovereignty by bombing at will.  It is true that Russia is bombing and that Iran has forces on the ground in Syria, but these were invited in by the internationally recognized government of Syria.  Not so the other parties.  

It seems likely that the two recent aerial bombings were not authorized from the top. So in trying to make sense of this cruel and senseless war it seems we have not only to consider the numerous main players - the Syrian Government, ISIS, Nusra, US, NATO, Russia, Hezbollah, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, Iran, the Kurds etc.but also factions within the players - Pentagon, CIA, State Dept. for US and no doubt similar factions within the Russian and Turkish militaries and who knows what within the various irregular groups.
But I imagine there is a one big difference between, on the one hand, the US and on the other Russia and Turkey. In the latter two cases any faction violating the overall strategy of the Czar or Sultan would be quickly removed. Not so in the US it seems. Unless of course we find that Ash Carter is replaced as Secretary of Defence the near future.

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