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Monday, June 19, 2017

"Mistakes" Behind 4 US Attacks on Syrian Forces

June 19, 2017
last edits June 22

The unprecedented U.S. shoot-down of a Syrian air force SU-22 on June 18 is at least the third direct attack on Syrian forces conducted by U.S. forces in the course of the war, all three of them in the last year, carried out under both the Obama and Trump administrations. A fourth apparent attack was blamed on Russian forces. While the deadliest attack happened during Obama's tenure, it was claimed as a mistake. The change seen under Trump is two attacks so far, both proudly claimed as justified, given Syria's unacceptable behavior.

Each time they were attacked, Syrian forces were blamed for causing it, through some criminal act needing punished, or through some kind of negligence. They seem to have a hard time learning their lesson, which usually isn't clear, and keep making a variety of mistakes, forcing the coalition's hand to attack them directly despite not wanting to. 

Further, these pretexts and the ensuing attacks keep seeming to support the goals - stated and unstated - of the U.S. in Syria and the region, helping Islamic State and other Jihadist groups expand their power at the expense of Syria's government. So the relation between stated mistakes and tacit motives should be carefully considered in each case.

All four incidents in chronological order:

1) Dec. 6, 2015, Saeqa Airbase, Deir Ezzour
(ACLOS) (Monitor)

Attack: First reports, including by SOHR and Syrian military, were clear that coalition forces flying out of Iraq launched this deliberate attack with nine missiles, killing several soldiers and wounding others at Saeqa airbase north of Deir Ezzour. It's said the U.S. jets split off while an unnamed nation's jets hit the base. The U.S. claims that was a Russian attack, flying through Iran and Iraq, that came exactly an hour after their own attack in the area, flying out of Iraq (or at the same time, depending on time zone issues - Iraq is an hour ahead of Syria). 
"Mistakes": Trusting those damn Russians?
Area/significance: The attack emboldened Islamic State (ISIS) forces around the base into an abortive attack - see #2 for a worse example. The Saeqa base and nearby town of Ayash were later overrun and remain ISIS-held in mid-2017. All positions around Deir Ezzour are tenuous; the city itself and all areas to the north, south, and east are firmly under ISIS control now. But there's a shrinking island of government  control just west of the city, a couple of well-manned army bases and the Deir Ezzour airbase, surrounded by the depths of the ISIS sea.
As such, there's a massive potential interest in having Syria lose all toeholds there, so thousands of soldiers can me massacred, sapping their will, and so the whole area can become another ISIS hub for outsiders to "liberate" and then not give back to Syria. Then it could be used, perhaps, as a capitol for the planned Sunnistan on the Iraq-Syria border area, as part of a new and more manageable Middle East. That would be Jihad and McWorld (as Benjamin Barber dubbed these forces some years ago) working together, as usual, to squeeze away the nation-state wherever it's seen as being in competition with McWorld's ambitions.

2) Sept. 17, 2016, Tal Thardah, Deir Ezzour

Attack: US and coalition attack on soldiers manning a regular spot, held steadily for months, on Thardah mountain (alt Jabal Turda, Tarda, etc.) The attack killed at least 62 soldiers and wounded well over 100. Survivors report coalition drone surveillance the day before, that cluster bombs were used in the attack, and the Americans gunned down soldiers from behind as they tried to flee, and that ISIS fighters were seen laughing about the help as they overran the abandoned hill.

"Mistakes": The Syrians had their fighters appear to be possible ISIS types (irregular uniforms, no flag noticed, and maybe some beards, besides some clean-shaven chins they didn't notice, perhaps?). And they let the US forget it was ever an important government-held area. This lax uniform code and lack of constant reminders left the coalition with no choice but to think these were ISIS guys in an ISIS area, a clearly worthy target to attack without even double-checking. The assault reportedly ran for about an hour before the Russians convinced the U.S. to cease fire.
Area/significance: this was an important mountain guarding Deir Ezzour airbase, their main airlink to the outside world and, as the cited Washington Institute map (at right) puts it, "The Islamic State's main goal" in the area. The attack destroyed all defenses there, and let ISIS actually overrun the mountain, massacre survivors, and gain the high ground over  the main object of their siege. They lost it with a Russian-backed counter-offensive that night, but later re-took it, and it's occupied by Islamic State to this day, keeping the airport vulnerable and more frequently attacked, and contributing to the slow erosion of government authority around Deir Ezzour.
The incident also angered Russia, and helped scuttle an agreed plan to partner with the U.S. to jointly fight ISIS AND the Al-Namechange Front. But it happened at the same time as the strike on the UN aid convoy (ACLOS) blamed by the U.S. on Syria and Russia, and used as the excuse to scuttle the deal Washington clearly never wanted, as they tried to ignore this coincidental "mistake." But after this, the coalition perhaps decided two mistakes was enough, even with one blamed on Russia. But they've been fairly open about the goal of chasing ISIS from their crumbling capitol of Raqqah and herding them towards Deir Ezzour (see entry #4 below).

3) April 7, 2017, Shayrat Airbase attack

Attack: 59 long-range missiles fired, moderately damaging Shayrat airbase, destroying some jets, reportedly killing at least six soldiers and nine civilians (when about 1/3 of the missiles missed the target), among them four children, and injuring many others. The Shayrat airbase is in Homs province, central Syria, and for once not in Deir Ezzour or very near to any Islamic State threat. That is for once, a U.S. attack did not directly favor ISIS on the government's most delicate battlefront.

"Mistakes": Syrian forces just had to drop a sarin bomb on Khan Sheikhoun, Idlib, on April 4, from 2 km south of town, which blew exactly upwind to kill 100+ and affect hundreds. (ACLOS) (Monitor) This included "beautiful babies" shown off by "opposition activists," and Ivanka Trump was made to cry. See:
US supposed radar track of attack jets from Shayrat base to prove the attack - that was said to be from a gravity bomb dropped from one of the two jets - north end of track compared to sarin release point (that black dot does represent the whole town, and the path is well south, at its closest):
Per the opposition story: sarin deaths (pinks spots in the purple area), sarin release point (blue circle inside the red circle), prevailing wind on video (estimate range in green - full explanation here), and thus note: their story does the exact opposite of line up.
See, that's what Damascus should not have done. If they want less U.S. bombing, they need to stop doing illegal, silly and impossible things like this.

Area/significance: The alleged sarin attack was near in time and space to a mass abduction of at least 120 civilians from briefly-overrun government-held areas to the south just days earlier. Still no victim-to-hostage matches have been publicized, but it could be these poor citizens, or some less obvious hostages, that provided the flesh for this bogus incident with just about 100 killed (counts vary). This can easily be  seen as Ghouta 2.0, designed to test a President Trump's reaction to the lackluster one by Obama the first time around. The first openly-acknowledged intentional attack on Syrian forces followed, with Trump threatening more of the same if opposition activists could convince him of another such attack.

4) Jun. 18, 2017, SU-22 downed near Tabqa:

Attack: A U.S. F/A-18 fighter jet shot down Syrian SU-22 attack plane dropping bombs "near SDF fighters" south of Tabqa (also near the crumbling ISIS capitol of Raqqah). Pro-government sources claim the jet was conducting a raid on Islamic State (ISIS) positions, while the anti-government SOHR heard the jet was hit over "al-Resafa" and not targeting SDF forces further north, but ISIS ones (and the pilot's fate remains unclear). However a U.S. Navy statement claims Syrian forces first attacked U.S.-backed Kurdish SDF forces, chasing them from the town of Ja'Din ("which sits approximately two kilometers north of an established East-West SDF-Syrian Regime de-confliction area" and per Peto Lucem's latest, just on the ISIS side of the line (see right). Then at 6:43 p.m., a Syrian SU-22 "dropped bombs near SDF fighters south of Tabqah" and "was immediately shot down by a U.S. F/A-18E Super Hornet" in accordance with rules to protect coalition partners. The immediate part sounds like there was no warning even, because they soooo should have already known better than to ... There's no claim the bombs were dropped on or aimed at the SDF fighters, as opposed to ISIS. The reality of who first liberated Ja'Din from ISIS and what happened after remains unclear to me at the moment.There are reports of the SAA liberating it, apparently from ISIS, but none of the SDF announcing a conquest. So maybe Syria took it from ISIS, the Kurds broke in and tried to take it, but the SAA chased them out under fire, and hence maybe SDF made a revenge call of bombs falling too "close" to them.

"Mistakes": dropping bombs near SDF, on SDF, competing too well against or fighting with SDF, threatening to liberate the al-Resafa crossroads from ISIS, unclear.

Area/significance: the attack came at the head of incredible Syrian gains in the last few days, a long push east just south of a sluggish-seeming SDF frontline. SyriaLiveMap shows more recent expansion by both forces to the east along their dividing line, both seeming to race towards the important crossroad and airport at Resafa (bottom middle on the map below). Conflict would be possible along the line, where Ja'Din is - their map showed, when I checked, Ja'din in the SDF-held area, and north of the same line extended (but it wiggles...)
later frontlines in light blue - green line and purple area are to help set where Ja'din is
But the jet was reportedly hit south of the deconfliction line, to be over Resafa as the SOHR heard, and thus more than likely hitting ISIS, not SDF targets. And provoked or not, the jet-downing might serve - coincidentally? - to shake Syrian resolve and halt this trend of progress in reclaiming their own territory, blocking the exits for ISIS fighters who might flee Raqqah to Deir Ezzour to help submerge the last Islands of sanity there, and furthering the Syrian goal of breaking the years-old siege of that important city. (apparently it did not stall Syria - see Moon of Alabama analysis) - they moved on to liberate Al-Resafa, an important point, as Russia has banned all coalition flights from west of the Euphrates, on penalty of tracking and possible shoot-down, with the U.S agreeing to scale back over there, and Australia at least halting operations for the time being (RT).

<add 6-22>Syria Live Map now shows Ja'Din and some areas to the north under Syrian army control, and the crossroads at "Ar Rusafah" here, and even a bit to the east, also in government hands.<end 6-22>

With that goal achieved, here is their situation vis-a-vis Deir Ezzour (from Moon of Alabama). We can see why Resafa was so important. And Trump just had to start downing Syrian jets as soon as they were bombing it.

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