Oops, the US accidentally bombs Syrian regime army base killing over 80 soldiers. Is the US intentionally helping ISIL?
Last weekend Russia and the US agreed to an unexpected ceasefire for the ongoing conflict in Syria, which commenced on Monday, the start of Muslim Eid al-Adha holiday. Per the agreement Russia must convince Assad to pull his forces out of Aleppo and to stop bombing rebel forces, while the US must convince ‘moderate’ rebel groups from cooperating with Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (the new name of al-Nusra). If the ceasefire holds for 7 days then the US and Russia will carry out joint airstrikes against ISIL and Jabhat Fatah al-Sham.1
While the ceasefire agreement was rather surprising, particularly its aspect of US-Russian military cooperation, it seems highly unlikely that it will hold and produce any meaningful peace in the short and medium term. Bashar al-Assad appears to be no fan of a negotiated political solution to the war, as just hours before the ceasefire came into effect he stated, “The Syrian state is determined to recover every area from the terrorists.”2 The Russians themselves are rather unhappy with how the ceasefire is unfolding. General Igor Konashenkov has accused the US backed “moderate opposition” of “increasing the amount of attacks on residential districts.”3 Putin has chimed in that terrorist groups operating in Syria are using the ceasefire to regroup and has criticized the US commenting:4
“they still cannot separate the so-called healthy part of the opposition from the half-criminal and terrorist elements. … In my opinion, this comes from the desire to keep the combat potential in fighting the legitimate government of Bashar Assad. But this is a very dangerous route.”
Obversely the Americans are complaining that the Syrian regime is preventing aid conveys from reaching Aleppo and it needy population.5 Furthermore, if we are to believe the analysis of DEBKAfile, the US military is disregarding Obama’s orders to cooperate with Russia in Syria, as apparently US military leaders are concerned that the Russians are using cooperation with the US as a ploy “to study the combat methods and tactics practiced by the US Navy and Air force in real battlefield conditions.”6
While all of these developments do not bode well for the ceasefire, the most serious blow to it occurred on Saturday, when US (F-16’s and A-10’s) and Australian1 warplanes, accidentally bombed a Syrian army defensive position 6 kilometers south of Deir ez-Zor airport, killing over 80 Syrian soldiers and wounding another 100 plus.8,9,10 US officials have expressed “regret” for their “mistake” of bombing Syrian regime forces, forces it should be added that were engaged in combat against ISIL. It has also been reported that as a result of the US-coalition airstrike ISIL was able to capture an area called Jebel Tharda.9
The Russians are greatly angered by America’s mistake. Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova reached the “terrifying conclusion” that “the White House is defending ISIS. Now there can be no doubts about that.”9 Vitaly Churkin, Russian Ambassador to the UN, was also highly suspicious of the incident.11 In his view “It is highly suspicious that the United States chose to conduct this particular air strike at this time,” yet they did “nothing when ISIL advanced on Palmyra.” He also speculated, “It was quite significant and not accidental that it happened just two days before the Russian-American arrangements were supposed to come into full force.” The Russian Foreign Ministry also basically stated that the airstrike was either a result of US “criminal negligence” or “direct connivance” with ISIL, and that the mistake would not have occurred if the US was more open to cooperating with Russia in fighting “terrorist” groups.12 Beyond verbal criticism the Russians have also called a UN Security Council session over the matter. The US has dismissed this course of action as “a stunt.”8
The Syrian regime is also outraged by the killing of over 80 of their soldiers by the US. The Syrian General Command described the airstrike as “serious and blatant aggression” by the US against Syria and claimed they had “conclusive evidence” that the US-led coalition is supporting ISIL.13 It has also been reported that Syrian regime anti-aircraft guns opened fire on a US reconnaissance drone that was flying about Deir ez-Zor.14 So it is clear that the situation has become rather tense.
Was it an accident?
Now one wonders what to make of the Deir ez-Zor incident. Was it really an accident by the US? Conversely are they providing air support for ISIL against the Assad regime? While such suspicions are dismissed out of hand by many as being absurd, for after all how could a nation like America militarily support an evil group like ISIL, yet there is certain aspects of the Deir ez-Zor incident that do in fact seem consistent with such an assertion.
For instance US-coalition warplanes bombed Syrian troops stationed in defensive positions about 6 kilometers south of Deir ez-Zor airport. These troops were supposedly misidentified as ISIL forces, yet one would presume that being in a defensive position, that they were stationary and that it should have been clear that these were Syrian troops. Furthermore the US bombardment was not a single airstrike, but a prolonged bombardment lasting for approximately 50 minutes and was only ceased when the Russian military contacted US-coalition forces to notify them of the situation.10
It is also interesting to note that the US is supposedly going to great lengths to avoid collateral damage in their Syrian and Iraqi air campaign against ISIL. It was widely reported in November, that 45 minutes before US warplanes struck an ISIL oil convoy in Iraq, that the drivers of the oil-trucks were warned by the US of the impending airstrikes so that they could abandon their vehicles, thereby preventing the deaths of ‘innocent’ people.15 Since the US is so conscientious to avoid killing the wrong people–to the point of hampering the effectiveness of their airstrikes against ISIL–where was their conscientiousness during the Deir ez-Zor incident?
Another odd aspect of the incident, one which Vitaly Churkin has mentioned, is why is it that the US thought it necessary to provide unasked for military assistance to the Assad regime against ISIL, when prior, during ISIL’s successful march towards Palmyra, they did nothing to stop this advance? Even if Syrian forces near Deir ez-Zor airbase were being over run by ISIL forces, doesn’t it stand to reason that the Syrian air force itself would provide close air support to their beleaguered comrades? And if the situation was particularly desperate, would not the Syrian regime call in the assistance of Russian warplanes to provide air support, which according to the Russians did in fact occur.10 As such, even if the Syrians were in need of assistance why did the US think it prudent that they should provide it, and to do so in an uncoordinated manner? For these reasons, although mistakes, even egregious and ridiculous ones, do often happen, there is something highly suspicious about the Deir ez-Zor incident, such that one can easily be led to believe that something else is going on.
Before we delve into what possibly the US was doing in Deir ez-Zor, there is another aspect of the incident that I will address. Regardless of whether one is pro-American or anti-American, it is clear that the ‘mistaken’ US air strikes at Deir ez-Zor illustrates the rather hypocritical behavior of the US. In essence the US will harshly criticize the Syrian regime or Russia for any mistakes they make, like bombing a hospital or civilians or striking ‘moderate‘ rebels, yet when the US makes a similar mistake, well then they just express their regrets about the unfortunate incident and continue as if they done nothing wrong, while, without any shame, continuing to criticize their enemies for similar actions.
Such sanctimonious behavior, while unperceived by many Americans, is conspicuous to many throughout the world. And such behavior is not isolated. For instance in April 2015 the Sukkari pediatric hospital was bombed in Aleppo, presumably by Syrian warplanes, killing from 14 to 50 civilians.16 The US was quick to condemn the bombing. John Kerry expressed his outrage at it and described it as “unconscionable.” But just a few months later the US themselves blasted to bits a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz Afghanistan killing 42. At least in the aftermath the US was apologetic with Obama lamenting, “I grieve with you for your loss and suffering, and humbly and respectfully ask for your forgiveness.” Yet do the Americans grant forgiveness to other groups when they make a ‘mistake’? It is behavior like this that has helped made the US very unpopular throughout the world.
Why did the US bomb Syrian force near Deir ez-Zor?
Moving on from America’s hypocrisy, the question that now arises is why did US warplanes bomb Syrian troops at Deir ez-Zor? In my view there are only four possibilities. The first one is that the US air force simply made a mistake, an egregious one, but a mistake nonetheless. For whatever reason they believed they were targeting ISIL forces and proceeded accordingly. It is notable that a Russian military briefing on the incident, given in the Russian language, characterized the incident as “the result of confusion and ignorance in the US-led coalition, as well as reluctance on US side to coordinate their anti-terrorist actions in Syria with Russia.”10 This is a slightly different stance than that expressed by Russian officials speaking in English or to the world media, in which they are suggesting the US is in cahoots with ISIL.
The second possibility is based on DEBKAfiles’s assertion that the US military is not pleased with Obama’s ‘rapprochement’ with Russia. If we are believe DEBKAfile and if we account for a revealing expose by Seymour in which he claims the US military was providing Assad with intelligence behind Obama’s back,17 then it appears that something of a soft mutiny has occurred in the US, with the military no longer completely loyal nor obedient to the President. If this is in fact the case, and if the US military does not want to coordinate airstrikes with the Russians as per the ceasefire deal, then it may be that certain elements of the US military may have ordered the air strike at Deir ez-Zor airbase wanting to strike Syrian troops with the intention of scuttling the ceasefire agreement. Of course such a theory is highly speculative and the stuff of a Clive Cussler novel, but nonetheless it is a possibility, however remote.
The third possibility is that being promulgated by the Russians, Syrian, Iranians and others in the Arab world, that in fact the US–i.e. Obama and the foreign policy establishment–are providing military support to their proxy army ISIL. Those skeptical of such a possibility may simply cite the US bombing campaign against ISIL in Syria and Iraq as clear evidence that the US is in fact fighting against ISIL and therefore is not supporting them. However, the possibility that the US would both fight and support ISIL at the same time is not contradictory, it could merely represent a Machiavellian balance of power strategy by the US.
The intensity of the US anti-ISIL campaign is not consistent with a war of extirpation but of containment. ISIL is indeed so fanatic, vicious and violent that the US cannot allow it to conquer too much territory in the Middle East, hence the need for military containment. However, a contained ISIL can still be an effective force against America’s enemies in the region, Syria, Hezbollah and Iran. For this reason the US may not want to completely destroy ISIL, which may explain their insipid and desultory campaign against them. With the help of Russia, Iran and Hezbollah, Assad appears to be gaining the upper hand in the Syrian Civil War. This goes against the US foreign policy establishment’s grand designs for the Middle East. As such the US must find a way to hinder Assad’s progress and prevent him from fulfilling his intention of retaking the whole of Syria, and supporting ISIL by ‘accidentally’ bombing regime forces in Deir ez-Zor, make be a way to do so.
To accomplish their aims the US must support ISIL just enough that they hinder Assad but not too much that they become the dominant power in the region. Hence the difficult and at time rather confusing balance of power game that the US seems to be engaged in. I also suspect that this confusion is greatly amplified by the fact that the US foreign policy establishment seems to be largely inept. In other words even though they may have a coherent grand strategy (which is debatable), their implementation of that strategy is almost farcical.
The fourth and final possibility is that the targeting of Syrian regime forces was intentional, but it was not meant to directly benefit ISIL–whatever benefit ISIL gained was merely incidentally–but it was meant to send a message to Assad, Putin and Khamenei. If you are unsure of what such a message could be, then a Charlie Rose interview of Michael Morell, former deputy director of the CIA, should clear things up.18 During the interview Morell suggested “we need to make the Iranians pay a price in Syria, we need to make the Russians pay a price.” Then Rose interjected “we make them pay the price by killing Russians and killing Iranians,” to which Morell answered “Yes covertly” and expanded:
“Here’s the other thing I want to do, I want to go after those things that Assad sees as his personal power base. I want to scare Assad. I want to go after his presidential guard. I want to bomb his offices in the middle of the night. … I want to destroy his presidential aircraft on the ground. I want to destroy his presidential helicopters. I want to make him think we’re coming after him. I am not advocating assassinating him. I am not advocating that. I am advocating going after what he thinks is his power base and what he needs to survive. I want him to think about ‘this is not going to end well for me.’ I want to put pressure on him, I want to put pressure of the Iranians, I want to put pressure on the Russians, to come to that diplomatic settlement.”
Beyond the shock of hearing a high level US intelligence official publicly advocate the killing of Russians and Iranians troops in Syria, what is even more worrisome, is that I highly suspect Morell’s opinions are not limited to himself but are shared by many other big wigs in the US foreign policy establishment. As such, all I can ask is whether or not the ‘accidental’ Deir ez-Zor bombing by US warplanes is consistent with Morell’s recommendations? If one wanted to go after Assad’s power base, then bombing his elite soldiers defending the strategically important enclave of Deir ez-Zor, and pretending it was a mistake, would do the trick.
I will leave it up to the reader to decide what is going on with the Deir ez-Zor incident. Did the US simply make a mistake, has the US military mutinied against Obama and are attempting to scuttle the US-Russia ceasefire, is the US actively and in a limited manner providing military support to ISIL or is the US following Morell’s playbook and are trying to intimidate Assad, Putin and Khamenei? These are the possibilities we are faced with.
Beyond what the explanation is, it is fascinating that merely a week ago there appeared to be the possibility, however remote and slim, that some type of resolution to the Syrian Civil War could occur or at the very least some form of de-escalation, but with the week’s developments such hopes have vanished. Such is how things can turn on a dime in the Middle East, and only more such fluctuations, with possible dangerous outcomes, is to be expected.
 http://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2016/09/10/After-truce-US-Russia-to-carry-out-joint-air-strikes-in-Syria.html , http://parstoday.com/en/news/middle_east-i25924-russia_us_agree_coordinated_airstrikes_in_syria