How the Pentagon sank the Pindo-Russia deal and the ceasefire
Gareth Porter, Middle East Eye, Sep 25 2016
Was the first-ever Pindosi strike against Syrian government forces an intentional hit by the Pentagon to block military cooperation with Russia? Another Pindo-Russian Syria ceasefire deal has been blown up. Whether it could have survived even with a Pindo-Russian accord is open to doubt, given the incentives for AQ and its allies (‘franchises’ – RB) to destroy it. But the politics of the Pindo-Russian relationship played a central role in the denouement of the second ceasefire agreement. The final blow apparently came from the Russian-Syrian side, but what provoked the decision to end the ceasefire was the first-ever Pindosi strike against Syrian government forces on Sep 17. That convinced the Russians that the Pentagon had no intention of implementing the main element of the deal that was most important to the Putin government: a joint Pindo-Russian air campaign against Daesh and AQ through a Joint Implementation Centre (JIC). And it is entirely credible that it was meant to do precisely that.
The Russians had a powerful incentive to ensure that the ceasefire would hold, especially around Aleppo. In the new ceasefire agreement, Jackass Kerry and Sergei Lavrov had negotiated an unusually detailed set of requirements for both sides to withdraw their forces from the Castello Road, the main artery for entry into Aleppo from the north. It was understood that the “demilitarisation” north of Aleppo was aimed at allowing humanitarian aid to reach the city and was, therefore, the central political focus of the ceasefire. The Russians put great emphasis on ensuring that the Syrian army would comply with the demilitarisation plan. It had established a mobile observation post on the road on Sep 13. And both the Russians and Syrian state television reported that the Syrian army had withdrawn its heavy weaponry from the road early on Sep 15, including video footage showing a bulldozer clearing barbed wire from the road. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also reported that the Syrian army had withdrawn from the road. But Jabhat al-Nusra (‘Fateh al-Sham’) had a clear incentive to refuse to comply with a move that could open the door to a Pindo-Russian campaign against it. Opposition sources in Aleppo claimed that no government withdrawal had happened, and said that opposition units would not pull back from their positions near the road. On the morning of Sep 16, the Syrian army moved back into positions on the road. Jackass and Lavrov agreed in a phone conversation that same day that the ceasefire was still holding, even though humanitarian aid convoys were still stalled in the buffer zone at the Turkish border because of the lack of permission from the Syrian government, as well as uncertainty about security on the route to Aleppo.
But Jackass also told Lavrov that Pindostan now insisted that it would establish the JIC only after the humanitarian aid had been delivered. This crucial shift in Pindostan’s diplomatic position was a direct result of the aggressive opposition of the Pentagon to Obama’s intention to enter into military cooperation with Russia in Syria. The Pentagon was motivated by an over-riding interest in heading off such high-profile Pindo-Russian cooperation at a time when it is pushing for much greater Pindo military efforts to counter what it portrays as Russian aggression in a new Cold War. At an extraordinary video conference with Jackass immediately after the negotiation of the ceasefire agreement was complete, Ashtray Carter strongly objected to the JIC, and most especially to the provision for sharing intelligence with the Russians for a campaign against Daesh & AQ. Obama had overridden Carter’s objections at the time, but a NYT story filed the night of Sep 13 reported that Pentagon officials were still refusing to agree that Pindostan should proceed with the creation of the JIC if the ceasefire held for seven days. The NYT quoted Lt-Gen Jeffrey Harrigian of the USAF Central Command, as telling reporters:
I’m not saying yes or no. It would be premature to say that we’re going to jump right into it.
Obama’s decision to insist that Pindostan would not participate in the joint centre with Russia until humanitarian convoys had been allowed into Aleppo and elsewhere first, was apparently aimed at calming the Pentagon down, but it didn’t eliminate the possibility of a joint Pindo-Russian campaign. Late in the evening the next day, Pindo planes carried out multiple strikes on a Syrian government base in the desert near one of its airbases in Deir Ez-Zor and killed at least 62 Syrian troops and wounded more than 100. The Pentagon soon acknowledged what it called a mistake in targeting, but the impact on the ceasefire deal was immediate. Syria accused Pindostan of a deliberate attack on its forces, and the Russians similarly expressed doubt about the Pindo explanation. On Monday Sep 19, the Syrian regime declared that the seven-day ceasefire had ended. And that same day, a major UN humanitarian aid convoy was being unloaded in an opposition-held town west of Aleppo when it was attacked, killing more than 20 aid workers. Pindo boxtops accused Russia of an air strike on the convoy, although the evidence of an air attack appeared slender, according to a Russian defence ministry spokesman.
It is not difficult to imagine, however, the fury with which both Russian and Syrian governments could have reacted to the Pindosi blows against both the Syrian army and the deal that had been sealed with Washington. They were certainly convinced that the Pindo air attack on Syrian troops was a clear message that the Pentagon and the Pindo military leadership would not countenance any cooperation with Russia on Syria, and were warning of a Syrian campaign to come once Hillary Clinton is elected. (Why not equally Donald? – RB) Attacking the aid convoy by some means was a brutal way of signalling a response to such messages. Unfortunately, the brunt of the response was borne by aid workers and civilians. The evidence that Pindostan deliberately targeted a Syrian military facility is of course circumstantial, and it is always possible that the strike was another of the monumental intelligence failures so common in war. But the timing of the strike, only 48 hours before the decision was to be made on whether to go ahead with the JIC, and its obvious impact on the ceasefire make a tight fit with the thesis that it was no mistake. And to make the fit even tighter, Gen Harrigian, the USAFCENT commander who had refused to say that his command would go ahead with such cooperation with Russia, would almost certainly have approved a deliberate targeting of a Syrian facility.
USAFCENT planners are very familiar with the area where it bombed Syrian troops, having carried out an average of 20 such strikes a week around Deir Ezzor, a DOD official told Nancy Youssef of The Daily Beast. Pentagon officials acknowledged to Youssef that the USAFCENT had been watching the site for at least a couple of days, but in fact they must have been familiar with the site, which has apparently existed for at least six months or longer. Yet no one has been able to explain how USAFCENT could have decided that a target so close to a Syrian government airbase in that government-controlled city was an IS target. Obama was strongly committed to the general strategy of cooperation with Russia as the key to trying to make headway in moving toward a ceasefire. But that strategy was based on a refusal to confront Pindo
regional allies vassals with the necessity to change course from reckless support for a Jihadi-dominated opposition force. Now that the strategy of the past year has gone up in flames, the only way Obama can establish meaningful control over Syria policy is to revisit the fundamental choices that propelled Pindostan into the sponsorship of the war in the first place.