Friday, 12 May 2017

Syrian Airstrike: More to the September 2016 'mistake' than originally thought

ON 18 SEPTEMBER 2016, warplanes belonging to the American “coalition” carried out air strikes on Syrian government soldiers defending the Deir ez-Zor airfield in northeastern Syria. 

More than 100 Syrian soldiers died in the attack and many more were wounded. Australia’s Department of Defence admitted its involvement in the attack, although it gave no details of precisely what role the RAAF played.

I wrote an article on Independent Australia in September last year doubting whether the attack was a “mistake” as claimed by the Americans and the Australians, and, indeed, whether Australia was actually involved at all.

The basis for the scepticism in respect of the “mistake” claim was the established fact that Syrian troops had been in position defending the airfield for several months from attacking ISIS troops.

The scepticism about Australian involvement arose out of Syrian and Russian reports that the attack, over more than an hour, was carried out by F-16 and A-10 fighters — neither of which are part of the RAAF’s arsenal. The Department of Defence declined further comment as they wished to maintain the “integrity” of the U.S. review of the incident.

Since then, there have been a number of developments that raise further questions about the RAAF’s role and indeed the whole basis of the September attack. These questions have not been answered by the release of the U.S. report on their investigation of the incident, nor by the Australian media’s unwillingness to question the alleged explanation or explore wider issues about Australia’s involvement in the Syrian war.

In order to avoid clashes between Russian forces, legally, in Syria at the request of the Syrian Government and American and “coalition” forces operating in Syria in violation of international law, there exists a communication system, referred to as the “deconfliction line”. Under the protocols governing this system, the Americans notify the Syrians and Russians where and when their forces will be operating.

In respect of the attack on Deir ez-Zor, it appears the Americans did advise the Russians of an impending attack but, in this case, gave false information as to exactly where the attack was to occur.

After the attacks started and Syrian soldiers were being bombed and strafed, the Russians tried urgently to contact the Americans on the deconfliction line. They were unable to do so because for the whole of the attack period the American end of the line was left unattended. This is unlikely to have been a coincidence.

The American report also acknowledged that U.S. Central Command headquarters in Qatar, which was responsible for the carrying out of the attack, had precise intelligence as to the exact location of the Syrian troops and their ISIS opposition.

Which is where the RAAF comes in. At the time of the attack on 18 September, the RAAF was operating its E-7A Wedgetail aircraft above the battle. 

Given that the RAAF had the intelligence data as to the exact location of the respective forces on the ground – which as noted were long term fixed positions for the Syrian defences – and that they had sophisticated observation, analysis and transmission capabilities, why is it that the attack continued on the Syrian Army for over an hour?

It is not a question answered by the American report and, beyond the initial statement admitting culpability for the “mistake”, the Australian Department of Defence has refused to provide further comment or explanation.

The suspicion that it was not a “mistake” but rather a deliberate attack on Syrian forces is reinforced by a number of other facts that have emerged. The Australian media has not thought it fit to comment or analyse any of these factors. The default position is always a variation on "we meant well", "we regret any mistakes" and "any further information is inappropriate on grounds of national security". International law is a wilderness never to be explored.

The first piece of additional information is that, within seven minutes of the U.S.-led attack commencing, ISIS ground forces commenced a well-organised attack on the Syrian defensive positions that were severely compromised by the air attacks.

The nature of the ISIS attack and its timing are among the strongest possible evidence that, far from being a “mistake”, this may have been an attack coordinated between ISIS and the Americans.

This view is reinforced by the further revelations that the ceasefire then in place (albeit imperfectly) was strongly opposed by U.S. Defence Secretary Carter, as well as Lt General Harrigan, commander of the U.S. Air Force Control Command that authorised the attack. The planned U.S.-Russian joint integration centre to co-ordinate attacks against ISIS was sabotaged by the attack. Carter and Harrigan had the means, motive and opportunity to sabotage a plan of which they both disapproved.

Deir ez-Zor is important for two other reasons. It is the centre of Syria’s largest oil and gas deposits. ISIS has been selling oil from captured sites in the area by transporting it over the border into Turkey.,10276#.WRLqfaTP_48.facebook
[Posted at the SpookyWeather blog, May 12th, 2017.]

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