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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 9/25/16

How the Pentagon sank the US-Russia deal in Syria -- and the ceasefire

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The Times quoted Lt Gen Jeffrey L Harrigian, commander of the United States Air Forces Central Command (USAFCENT), 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," he added.

President Obama's decision to insist that the US would not participate in the joint center 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 US-Russian campaign.

Immediate impact

Late in the evening the next day, US and allied planes carried out multiple strikes on a Syrian government base in the desert near one of its airbases in Deir Ezzor 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 the US of a deliberate attack on its forces, and the Russians similarly expressed doubt about the US explanation.

On Monday 19 September, 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. US officials accused Russia of an air strike on the convoy, although the evidence of an air attack appeared slender, according to a Russian defense ministry spokesman.

It is not difficult to imagine, however, the fury with which both Russian and Syrian governments could have reacted to the US blows against both the Syrian army and the deal that had been sealed with Washington. They were certainly convinced that the US air attack on Syrian troops was a clear message that the Pentagon and US 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.

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.

Mistake or strategy?

The evidence that the US 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 Joint Implementation Center -- 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 Harrigan, 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 A 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 US regional allies with the necessity to change course from reckless support for a jihadist-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 the US into the sponsorship of the war in the first place.

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Gareth Porter (born 18 June 1942, Independence, Kansas) is an American historian, investigative journalist and policy analyst on U.S. foreign and military policy. A strong opponent of U.S. wars in Southeast Asia, and the Middle East, he has also (more...)
 

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