Deliberate Mistakes


The hawks in the Pentagon have sabotaged the Syrian cease-fire deal.  Rather than coming to terms with Russia, the US seems intent on bogging it down.








By Abdel Bari Atwan

The unraveling of the Syrian cease-fire agreement reached in Geneva ten days ago by US Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov was only to be expected. There was no intention to sustain the truce or extend it beyond the first week, especially not on the part of the Americans who appear to have had a radical change of mind about it.

Saturday’s US-led airstrike that decimated a Syrian army contingent at Jabal ath-Tharda near Deir az-Zour – reportedly killing 82 soldiers and wounding more than 100  – was the clearest indication of that. The US seems set on reshuffling the cards in Syria once again and scrapping earlier understandings with Russia on a political settlement.

The British, Australian and Danish governments acknowledged on Monday that their aircraft also took part in the attack. This means it was part of a concerted pre-planned action, further undermining the credibility of the US claim that it was a mistake. The US and its Western allies boast endlessly about the accuracy of their smart weapons and the care they exercise in their targeting. It would be understandable if an American warplane blundered and hit a wrong target, but it beggars belief that the same mistake could be made by all four air forces.

Predictably, that spelled the end of the US-Russian deal. Within minutes of the expiry of the cease-fire on Monday night, the situation in Syria reverted to square one.  Syrian government artillery and missiles resumed their pounding of besieged eastern Aleppo, the main stronghold of most of the armed opposition factions, supported by air strikes. Other fronts in the war can be expected to reignite in turn.

Why did the US renege on the cease-fire agreement it signed and subscribed to, and take such drastic action to ensure it would be scarpered? The normally talkative Kerry has kept largely quiet about the matter and avoided saying much to the media. But it would seem that several considerations are at play in Washington.

The US is in no hurry to see the crisis in Syria brought to an end. Increasingly, it appears content to let it persist and use it bog down and bleed Russian and its military along with its Syrian and Iranian allies, just as it did in Afghanistan during the Soviet presence in the 1980s.

To exhaust the Russians, it is imperative to keep in tact and preserve the power of the jihadist Islamist factions, notably Fateh ash-Sham (formerly the Nusra Front) and its powerful coalition of allies including Jaish al-Fateh, Ahrar ash-Sham, Failaq ash-Sham and others.  They constitute the hard military core of the insurgency, just as the mujahideen did in Afghanistan – and they just happen to be backed by the same Gulf states that bankrolled their Afghan counterparts.

The US also wants to prevent the Syrian government from regaining control of Deir az-Zour. The country’s most important oilfields are located in the district, and their recovery would reduce the financial pressure on Damascus and enable it to improve economic conditions. In addition to its oil resources, eastern Syria is also a rich agricultural area.

At the same time, the US is engaged in a race with Russia over the capture of al-Raqqa, the main Syrian stronghold of the Islamic State (IS) group. It seems clear that the Pentagon, which sent Special Forces to fight alongside Kurdish forces battling IS on both sides of the Iraq-Syria border, does not want to see Russia’s triumph in Palmyra repeated in Raqqa or Deir az-Zour, even if that benefits IS, at least temporarily. This may explain President Bashar al-Asad’s statement on Monday accusing the US of aiding IS. The group’s takeover of the Syrian army position overlooking Deir az-Zour airport would give IS control of virtually the only air facility available to the Syrian military in the east of the country, and also enable it to disrupt civil aviation. The airstrikes carried out by the US and its allies facilitated the attainment this objective.

This new Pentagon-driven turn in the US approach is highly risky if not reckless. It could lead to political and perhaps military confrontations with Moscow. It was not surprising that Russia’s UN envoy, Vitally Churching, felt compelled to wonder who was in charge of US policy Syria — the State Department or the Pentagon? While he will certainly get no reply, to Russia the airstrike looked like a deliberate attack aimed at embarrassing it and discrediting it in the eyes of its allies – by forcing it, effectively, either to acquiesce to US-dictated changes in the agreed terms of the cease-fire, or bear responsibility for the consequences of its collapse.

Hawks in the US administration have always opposed the policy of engagement with Russia over Syria. They see the conflict as an opportunity to entangle and exhaust Russia and its military, as their ideological predecessors did in Afghanistan. That same mind-set later led to the invasion of Iraq and the bombing of Libya. The big difference this time, or so one may suppose, is that Putin’s Russia is not the same as it was under Brezhnev, Gorbachev or Yeltsin.

The US is loathe to take action against Fateh ash-Sham/Nusra, or to differentiate between it and the moderate opposite factions, as was stipulated in the agreement with Russia. It may proceed to do the opposite. We now face a game of chicken between the two superpowers. It may not take long to find out who flinches first.

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  1. It remains to be seen whether president Putin of Russia is fully cognizant that the US is using the same technique with him in Syria as they did with the late president Brezhnev in Afghanistan. Russian politics is harder to read because most members of the government tend defer to Vladimir Putin out of fear and respect. In essence, Russia appears as a one man entity in Putin who keeps his cards held closely to his chest.

    The US, on the other hand, is very vocal, and invests heavily into dozens of geopolitical think tanks, most of which are staffed by PhD graduates specializing in their fields. This is how the US usually succeeds in penetrating opposing countries under the guise of NGO’s that pretend to help that society. But fortunately, Putin showed that he was aware of the dangers of American NGO’s and he kicked them out.

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