by Tahir Mahmoud (Main Stories, Crescent International Vol. 45, No. 8, Dhu al-Hijjah, 1437)
While the US-Russia brokered ceasefire was not expected to last long, the American air strike on the Syrian air base at Deir az-Zour blew it up in less than a week. Why?
Less than a week after the US-Russia brokered ceasefire in Syria went into effect, four American warplanes bombed the Syrian air base at Deir al-Zour. The September 17 attack killed 62 Syrian soldiers and wounded more than 100 others. When Syria raised the issue of the attack and violation of Syrian sovereignty at the Security Council, America’s UN ambassador Samantha Power repeated what the US Central Command had said that it may have “unintentionally” struck the Syrian airbase. The US Central Command further claimed it was carrying out a raid against Da‘ish terrorists and that the strikes were stopped in less than five minutes when Russia called the US to halt it.
Neither Russia nor Syria bought this line. A statement from the Russian Foreign Ministry on September 18 was unusually blunt: the US attack on the Syrian airbase “bordered between criminal negligence and direct connivance” with the Da‘ish terrorists. It further said the incident was the result of Washington’s “stubborn refusal” to cooperate with Moscow in fighting Da‘ish, Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, al-Qaeda’s Syrian branch formerly known as al-Nusra Front, and “other terrorist groups.”
In an interview with the Associated Press (AP) on September 21, Syrian President Bashar al-Asad also rubbished American claims of the “unintentional” attack. He said it targeted a “huge area” comprising many hills. “So it was definitely intentional, not unintentional as they [the Americans] claimed.” He further revealed that the attack went on for an hour, not five minutes, according to the American version. The large number of Syrian casualties (62 dead and more than 100 injured) also supported al-Asad’s assertion.
Other independent analysts found the US claim of “unintentional” attack equally ludicrous. Military analyst Pat Lang posted this comment on his website Sic Semper Tyrannis on September 17, “The SAA [Syrian Arab Army] has been occupying these positions [on the hills] for six months or so. Presumably US imagery and SIGINT analysts have been looking at them all that time and producing map overlays that show who is where in detail. These documents would be widely available especially to air units and their targeteers. [A] US coalitionled air attack has not struck previously in the Deir al-Zour area.”
Al-Asad was unrelenting in his criticism. In his AP interview he revealed that Da‘ish terrorists overran government positions on the hills overlooking the base immediately after the attack. “How could they [Da‘ish] know that the Americans are going to attack that position in order to gather their militants to attack right away and to capture it one hour after the strike?” al-Asad asked. The Syrian president was emphatic, “It wasn’t an accident by one airplane… It was four airplanes that kept attacking the position of the Syrian troops for nearly one hour, or a little bit more than one hour.”
Four US planes — two F-16s and two A-10s — had illegally entered Syria from Iraq and bombed the Deir al-Zour Airbase. The coordinates of the airbase are well known to all parties operating, legally or illegally, in Syria. It is not a bunker in the middle of nowhere, so how could the Americans take cover behind the excuse of a mistake? “You don’t commit a mistake for more than one hour,” al-Asad insisted in his interview with the Associated Press.
It is interesting to note that US planes did not attack the Da‘ish terrorists even though they had occupied positions on the hills overlooking the Syrian airbase. Such positions would be easy targets from the air. Instead, it took the Syrian air force, army and allied militias to drive the terrorists out of those positions they had occupied in the aftermath of the US attack on the Syrian airbase. Naturally the US attack resulted in the collapse of the ceasefire agreement although American officials tried to shift the blame on Russia and Syria.
Two days later when the UN convoy carrying supplies to the besieged city of Aleppo was attacked and a warehouse destroyed, the US was quick to blame Syria and Russia. The UN Secretary General Ban Ki moon, who had not uttered a word about the American attack on the Syrian airbase, came out swinging against the attack on the UN convoy. Initially he parroted the American line accusing Russia and Syria for the attack but when Moscow demanded an independent inquiry to ascertain the truth, the UN chief started to backtrack. The US, however, continued to blame Russia. The AP quoted an unnamed “senior US administration official” on September 22 who alleged a Russian-piloted aircraft had carried out the strike.
Informed observers were doubtful about the ceasefire from the start since earlier ones did not last long (for instance, the one that went into effect on February 27, 2016). Even they were surprised by the speed with which this latest one collapsed, especially given the US’ direct role in preparing the terms of reference. Responding to US Secretary of State John Kerry’s verbal attacks on September 22 in the Security Council on his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov for living in a “parallel world of facts,” the latter said it was clear that there can be no more ceasefire agreements. The other side [the US] merely uses it to rearm the terrorists or seek military advantage during the lull.
Baffled by the manner in which US policy has oscillated between finding a negotiated settlement to the long-festering imposed war on Syria and US military strikes, Russia’s UN ambassador Vitaly Churkin, at an emergency press conference at the United Nations on September 18 made the following comment, “The big question that has to be asked is: ‘Who is in charge in Washington? Is it the White House or the Pentagon?’ …Because we have heard comments from the Pentagon which fly in the face of comments we have heard from Obama and Kerry…”
Churkin was not speculating. A few days earlier, even the New York Times (9-14-2016) had noticed the gap between Obama and his generals. The Times wrote, “[US Secretary of Defence Ashton] Carter was among the administration officials who pushed against the [ceasefire] agreement… although President Obama ultimately approved the effort. On Tuesday [September 13] at the Pentagon, officials would not even agree that if a cessation of violence in Syria held for seven days — the initial part of the deal — the Defense Department would put in place its part of the agreement on the eighth day…”
“I’m not saying yes or no,” Lt. Gen. Jeffrey L. Harrigian, commander of the United States Air Forces Central Command, told reporters on a video conference call. “It would be premature to say that we’re going to jump right into it.” (“Details of Syria Pact Widen Rift Between John Kerry and Pentagon,” New York Times, September 14).
Reflecting on the rift between the President and the Pentagon hawks that is now out in the open, Mike Whitney, the American commentator, wrote on September 20, “Think about that for a minute: Lt. General Harrigian appears to be saying that he may not follow an order from the Commander in Chief if it’s not to his liking. When exactly did military leaders start to believe that orders are optional or that the DoD [Department of Defence] had a role to play in policymaking?”
Whitney then went on to quote extensively from the New York Times article of September 14 to reinforce his observations, “The divide between Mr. Kerry and Mr. Carter reflects the inherent conflict in Mr. Obama’s Syria policy. The president has come under increased fire politically for his refusal to intervene more forcefully in the five-year civil war [sic!], which the United Nations says has killed more than 400,000 people, displaced more than six million and led to a refugee crisis in Europe. But keeping large numbers of American ground forces out of Syria has also created space for Russia to assume a greater role there, both on the battlefield and at the negotiating table…”
The Pentagon hawks’ concerns were captured by Whitney thus, “The result is that at a time when the United States and Russia are at their most combative posture since the end of the Cold War, the American military is suddenly being told that it may, in a week, have to start sharing intelligence with one of its biggest adversaries to jointly target Islamic State and Nusra Front forces in Syria.”
General Philip M. Breedlove, who recently stepped down as NATO’s supreme allied commander, said on September 12 in an interview, “I remain skeptical about anything to do with the Russians.” The Times then quoted him as saying, “There are a lot of concerns about putting out there where our folks are.”
So the Pentagon hawks not only want to bomb Syria back to the Stone Age, as they have done with several other Muslim countries in recent years — with little positive to show for it except an increase in terrorism-related violence (perhaps that was the intent all along!) — but also to bomb the White House. A large number of racist Americans have still not reconciled to the fact that a black man sits in the White House. As far as they are concerned, the natural place for a black man is in the White House kitchen. They cannot stomach the thought that a black man has been sleeping in the Lincoln bedroom — a slave owner, no less — for the last eight years!
Obama has stated on numerous occasions that his proudest moment as president has been to resist the pressure to get directly involved in the Syrian conflict. Lest one think the US is not involved, consider this. The US air force has been carrying out bombing missions (on behalf of the terrorists!) for quite some time as well as supplying weapons to them. Hundreds of American Special Forces are also assisting Kurdish guerrillas in northern Syria. That America has not put more boots on the ground to overthrow the Asad government is what irks the Pentagon hawks.
Endless war is what they want. They even want to take on Russia militarily. The death and destruction they have wrought in Afghanistan and Iraq has not satiated their blood lust. War is profitable business, especially for weapons manufacturers that have most generals in their pockets. Together with protecting the Zionist State of Israel, making money out of killing others is what this war is all about.