the big sow, coming your way

Jackass calls on Russia and Syria to ground all aircraft in northwest Syria
Karen DeYoung, WaPo, Sep 21 2016

UN – Jackass Kerry called on Russia and Syria on Wednesday to “immediately ground all aircraft” flying in key areas of north-west Syria where a humanitarian convoy was destroyed Monday, and accused Moscow of inventing its “own facts” to explain the air attack for which Russia is responsible. Jackass told the UNSC:

The simple reality is we cannot resolve this crisis if major parties … are unwilling to do what’s necessary to avoid escalation. We don’t get anywhere by ignoring facts and denying common sense.

Jackass’ caustic intervention came after Sergei Lavrov denounced “emotional reactions” to the strike on the convoy and called for a “serious” investigation of the incident. After suggesting that the attack was perpetrated by terrorist ground forces­ active in the area southwest of Aleppo, Moscow newly implied that it could have been a Pindo drone. Amid the charges and counter­charges, speakers to the council pleaded for cooperation that could lead to a genuine cease-fire in the five-year civil war, and excoriated the international community as a whole for not ending the carnage. UN Sec-Gen Ban Ki-moon said in opening the meeting:

The Syrian tragedy shames us all. The collective failure of the international community should haunt every member of this council.

The meeting was not on the official schedule but was tacked on to another session. Jackass, Lavrov and other foreign ministers quickly took over the chairs that had been occupied by their UN ambassadors. But while all bemoaned the ongoing strife in Syria, agreed that the crumbling ceasefire was the only way out, and pledged to do better at implementing it, attention was focused on the sharp exchange between Jackass and Lavrov. In remarks Jackass described as a “parallel universe,” Lavrov said that one of the clearest violations of the ceasefire was “the Sep 16 attack by the coalition against government forces,” the apparently mistaken airstrike in eastern Syria that killed dozens of Syrian soldiers. The convoy attack of Monday, Lavrov said, was “another unacceptable provocation,” which took place west of Aleppo near Nusra targets. He said:

On the same day, in the same area, there was a very aggressive attack against government ­forces. These kind of coincidences require serious analysis and investigation. … Many said (it) could have been a rocket or a mortar.

He said Russia had presented proof, “including real-time video of when this actually happened.” In Moscow, the Defense Ministry said Wednesday that a coalition Predator drone, which it said had taken off from Incirlik air base in Turkey, was seen near the route of the convoy on the day of the attack. Russia has said repeatedly that no Russian or Syrian aircraft was in the vicinity. Maj-Gen I Konashenkov told reporters at a briefing:

(The drone) was spotted in mid-air at the height of 3,600 m, moving at the speed of about 200 k/h, exactly in this area on Sep 19. (It) stopped near the area of the populated locality of Urum al-Kubra (where the strike took place) several minutes before the convoy caught fire. And it left about 30 minutes later. This type of drone not only can observe the situation, but also direct ground weapons and autonomously deliver high-accuracy strikes on secure facilities.

DoD Cap J Davis said in an emailed statement:

We can confirm that NONE of our aircraft, manned or unmanned, Pindosi or coalition, were anywhere in the vicinity of Aleppo when the strike against the humanitarian convoy occurred.

Jackass also replied scornfully to Lavrov’s description of the attack, saying:

I don’t think we can let anybody here, if we’re going to deal with this situation, have their own set of facts about Syria. Twenty aid workers were killed in an outrageous, sustained, two-hour attack directed at a fully authorized humanitarian mission near Aleppo. Our preliminary conclusions are that the convoy was hit by a Russian airstrike. Those conclusions have been supported by the ICRC and other humanitarian groups, as well as workers on the ground. Just Tuesday night, there were reports of airstrikes on a medical facility near Aleppo, and four medical workers were killed, despite the fact there is supposed to be a cessation. There are only two countries that have airplanes that are flying during the night or flying at all in that particular area: Russia and Syria. Yes, the coalition did hit people on Saturday. We did it. It was a terrible accident. Within moments of it happening, we acknowledged it. We didn’t put out a bunch of obfuscating facts. We said, “Yeah, it’s a terrible thing, it happened.” The Defense Dept apologized, and we tried to find out how it happened. People running around with guns on the ground … is a different thing from trucks in a convoy with big UN markings all over them.

Jackass’ proposal to ground all aircraft in the north-west area around Aleppo is a significant change from the original terms of the Pindo-Russian agreement, which imposed no initial restriction on Syrian airstrikes against Nusra, while saying that once a ceasefire against all but terrorist groups was holding and aid was being delivered, Pindostan and Russia would take over with exclusive responsibility for strikes against Nusra and Daesh. In his remarks, Lavrov repeated Russia’s insistence that the deal also called for Pindostan and its vassals to separate rebel forces­ from nearby Jihadi groups, saying:

In spite of our appeals on the need to influence the armed opposition, so far the results have been very insignificant.

Jackass acknowledged:

For too long, some elements of the opposition have relied on an unholy coalition with al-Nusra. … Nusra is AQ. We can’t look the other way if groups on the ground are fighting with … an enemy of all in this room. It’s very hard to separate people when they are being bombed indiscriminately and when Assad has the right to determine who he’s going to bomb, because he can quote “Go after Nusra” but go after the opposition all at the same time because he wants to. You create a confusion that is impossible to separate out. We need to get to the prohibition on flying. That would prevent Syria from doing what it has done so often in the past, which is to attack civilian targets with the excuse it was just going after Nusra. To restore credibility to the process, we must move forward to immediately ground all aircraft flying in those key areas, in order to de-escalate the situation and give a chance for humanitarian assistance to flow unimpeded. When (the Russians) signed the most recent ceasefire agreement, they said (Assad) would live by the cessation of hostilities and would accept the idea of not flying over agreed-upon areas. Because of the last few days, we have no choice but to do that sooner rather than later.

Although Kerry did not specify, his proposal appeared to include grounding Russian aircraft in the area. Although he offered no public details of the proposal, senior administration officials described it as a confidence-building measure that would prove Russian commitment, and could get the ceasefire deal back on track. They said it could apply to all areas where the opposition is massed, including Aleppo, Idlib and as far south as the Damascus suburbs. Jackass first proposed it in a private meeting with Lavrov on Tuesday night. Russia has given no initial response to the proposal, said the Pindos. The International Syria Support Group, chaired by the United States and Russia, along with other outside actors in the conflict, including Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, plans to meet again on Thursday.

Jackass Kerry says Russia and Pindostan are ‘in a parallel universe’ over ceasefire
Andrew Buncombe, Independent, Sep 21 2016

The gaping rift between Pindostan and Russia over the war in Syria has been publicly exposed as the two countries accused the other of allowing a scrappy, days-old ceasefire to fall apart. At an event that was supposed to enshrine the truce between various factions between them that was agreed on Nov 9 Jackass Kerry and Sergey Lavrov exchanged barbs and heated words at the UNSC on Wednesday morning. Jackass suggested Lavrov was living in a “parallel universe.” The testy exchange, that took place as the world watched, came after two attacks on medical convoys. In one, on Monday, 20 civilians were killed when the Syrian Red Crescent convoy was struck. On Tuesday, an air strike in northern Syria killed five members of mobile medical emergency unit. The attacks prompted a temporary suspension on UN overland aid convoys to priority areas in Syria, but the UN said on Wednesday it would be resuming operations on a case-by-case basis. Jackass told the UNSC:

Supposedly we all want the same goal. I’ve heard that again and again. But we are proving woefully inadequate in making that happen.

He then outlined a series of complaints against Syria & Russia. He recited Moscow’s changing narrative over Monday’s attack on the an aid convoy that has included everything from claims of a justifiable counter-terror strike to vehicles spontaneously combusting something other than an air attack. He said:

This is not a joke (but the Russians are) engaged in word games to dodge responsibility over questions of “war and peace, life and death. To restore credibility, we must immediately ground all aircraft flying in those key areas in order to de-escalate the situation and give a chance for humanitarian assistance to flow unimpeded.

Jackass spoke just after Lavrov had delivered his own set of barbs, underscoring the breakdown in trust in the 12 days since he and Jackass clinched a ceasefire agreement. Unlike Jackass, who stressed the importance of Assad’s government ending military operations against rebels and allowing in unfettered aid, Lavrov said that Pindostan had the biggest responsibility. He said:

The key priority is to separate the opposition forces from the terrorists.

Responding to the wide criticism of the convoy attack, which Pindo boxtops are blaming on Russia, Lavrov cited various possible explanations. Meanwhile, the Russian Defence Ministry yesterday said a Pindo Predator drone was in the area when the aid convoy was hit and had appeared on the scene minutes before the incident. Repeating denials of Russian involvement in the episode, Defense Ministry spox Maj-Gen Konashenkov said Western allegations that Moscow was responsible were an attempt to distract attention from the Pindo-led coalition’s bombing of Syrian soldiers near Deir Azzor airport on Saturday. In New York, Jackass said at one point that listening to his Russian counterpart was like hearing about a “parallel universe.” On Tuesday, the two diplomats superannuated old fogeys had met with more than a dozen Arab and European foreign ministers, hoping to hold onto what might be salvageable from a week of relative calm in Syria. No one spoke of any progress, beyond a decision to hold follow-up discussions later this week. UN Sec-Gen Ban Ki-moon said, as he opened the session:

We are at a make or break moment.

Envoy Staffan de Mistura described his long-delayed plans for a multi-step Syrian peace process and transition that appeared, even by his own admission, untethered to reality on the ground. He said:

I know it looks like a dream…

After the meeting, British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson told the BBC:

I think it’s too early to say anything about criminality and that kind of thing, or indeed to make conclusive judgments about responsibility, but put it this way, when you look at what happened to the aid convoy, there are only two possible culprits, only two forces that are capable of having carried out that strike flying in that area, they are the Syrians and the Russians, and we have our doubts about the Syrian capability to fly at night.

Russia says Pindosi drone was in area where UN convoy
Reuters, Sep 21 2016

The Russian Defense Ministry said on Wednesday that a Pindo Predator drone was in the area where a UN aid convoy was partially destroyed in Syria on Monday and had appeared on the scene minutes before the incident. Maj-Gen I Konashenkov, a spokesman for the ministry, said the drone had taken off from the Incirlik air base in Turkey, arrived in the area a few minutes before the convoy had caught fire, and left about 30 minutes later. He noted that such drones were armed with air-to-ground missiles. Konashenkov said in a statement:

Only the drone’s owners know what it was doing there at the necessary moment and what tasks it was carrying out.

He said Russia was not drawing any conclusions about the drone’s presence. He repeated denials of any Russian involvement in the episode and said Western allegations that Moscow was directly or indirectly responsible were an attempt to distract attention from the Pindo-led coalition’s deadly bombing of Syrian soldiers near Deir al-Zor airport on Saturday. Russian planes were not in the area at the time and had not made any air strikes there, he said, saying Moscow had informed Pindostan of that the same evening as the incident took place.

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