There is more reason than ever to believe a hundred Syrian soldiers were massacred to kill the Kerry-Lavrov agreement on Syria
September 17 US Air Force attacked Syrian army positions around the city of Deir ez-Zor which is besieged by ISIS for over an hour killing around 100 Syrian soldiers.
Just a week prior Kerry and Lavrov had signed a deal to establish a ceasefire regime in Syria and that would see the US join the war against al-Nusra and all other rebel groups which declined to separate from it.
The deal horrified the Pentagon and Defense Secretary Ash Carter but luckily for them the Deir ez-Zor raid killed it.
US quickly took responsibility for the attack, but also said it was an honest mistake and signaled Syria and Russia were unreasonable for making a big deal out of it.
Soon thereafter the US announced it would investigate itself and a short two months later published its findings that the massacre was a result of "unintentional human errors".
Well that's that then. The same military which carried out the bombing and had said right away that it was a mistake had investigated itself and has found it was just like they had said.
Not so fast! The veteran journalist Gareth Porter who has actually bothered to read the entire report not just the conclusion finds such a string of errors rather unlikely and we're inclined to agree -- data from the report does not point to an error but more likely to a conspiracy.
Firstly gathering intelligence the US military identified the Syrian positions as belonging to ISIS albeit it detected a heavy presence of armored vehicles which would be highly unusual for ISIS but consistent with the Syrian army:
From its initial position above the site three kilometers from the airfield, the drone followed a vehicle to two other positions nearby, both of which also had tunnels, as well as “defensive fighting positions”, including tanks and armoured personnel carriers. All those characteristics would have been consistent with a Syrian Army position, especially in Deir Ezzor.
At the time the Syrian Army was fighting from fixed defensive positions to prevent the Deir Ezzor airport – the lifeline for the entire government-held portion of the city – from being overrun.
Nevertheless, those positions were quickly identified as belonging to IS, based primarily on the clothing worn by the personnel at the sites. The report describes the personnel at the two sites as dressed in “a mix of traditional wear, civilian attire and military style clothing that lacked uniformity”.
Next the guys analysing drone footage tried to warn the brass this was a mistake:
The regional station belonging to the Air Force’s Distributed Common Ground System (DCGS) is the main source of Air Force analysis of intelligence from aerial surveillance. It responded to the initial identification of the positions as belonging to the Islamic State group by raising “concerns” that the ground force in question could not have belonged to the group.
Someone even made a desperate phone call to try to stop the strike just before it would launch:
Thirty minutes before the strike was scheduled, someone called into the CAOC to report a “possible flag” in one of two target areas. The call, which contradicted the accepted identification based on the absence of flags at the site, “went unacknowledged”, according to the report.
In fact the real positions of ISIS and the Syrian army were well-known to US intelligence and the brass had easy access to this information:
The report also reveals that a map prepared by an intelligence agency, whose identity is redacted, that was available at the CAOC contradicted the classified map showing areas occupied by the Syrian Army and IS in the vicinity of the Deir Ezzor airfield.
The classified map supported the decision to proceed with the strike. But the officials involved in targeting decisions denied any knowledge of another map.
Next, despite the fact there was no great urgency in striking what was identified as a defensive position and had been continuously occupied since March 2016 the Air Force decided the raid would be planned in an expedited, emergency manner rather than follow normal protocol for targets which aren't going anywhere:
The report faults those who made the decisions on the targeting of the strike for failing to follow normal Air Force procedures. Originally, the CAOC had initiated a process called “Deliberate Targeting”, which is used for fixed targets and requires extensive and time-consuming work to ensure the accuracy of the intelligence on the targets, according to the report. But that had been changed abruptly to “Dynamic Targeting”, which involves “fleeting targets” – those that are either moving or about to move - for which intelligence requirements are less stringent.
The authors of the report found that change to be improper, given that the sites being targeted were clearly identified as defensive positions and could not justify such a switch to a hastily prepared strike. But again, it offers no explanation as to why.
Lastly, informing the Russians the Air Force told them it was actually going to strike somewhere else:
The investigation report summary reveals that the CAOC sent misleading information to the Russians before the strike about the location of the targets. The Russians were informed that the targets were nine kilometres south of Deir Ezzor airfield: they were actually only three and six kilometres from that airfield, respectively, according to the summary of its findings.
Brig. Gen. Richard Coe, who briefed reporters on the team’s report, acknowledged that the misleading information had prevented the Russians from intervening to stop the strike. “Had we told them accurately, they would have warned us,” he told reporters.
The report then is saying the bloody Deir ez-Zor bombing was not the result of one error, but the result of a very long string of unexplained errors piled on top of each other. At so many steps along the way the planned strike could be recognized as being destined to hit Syrian soldiers but every time a freak mistake interceded. So one either has to believe the US Air Force is a highly incompetent organization, or else that the raid succeeded only too well.
And by the way, the Air Force general Jeffrey L Harrigan who ordered the strike warned after the Kerry-Lavrov deal was signed that talk of cooperation with the Russians was premature:
In a press briefing on 13 September, Harrigan stated that his readiness to join such a joint operation with the Russians “is going to depend on what the plan ends up being.” He added: “It would be premature to say we’re going to jump right into it. And I’m not saying yes or no. I’m saying we’ve got work to do to understand what the plan is going to look like.”
How did he know?