The United States Air Force has struck a contingent of the Syrian Arab Army and allied fighters near At Tanf in southern Syria. The US has a military outpost in At Tanf which is close to both the Iraqi and Jordanian border.
This is the second time that the US has bombed elements of the Syrian Arab Army since Donald Trump became President.
According to Syria, the casualties of the attack are as follows:
- A convoy of five T-62 tanks were hit by the U.S. Coalition
- Two tanks were destroyed
- A Shilka was damaged
- Six military personnel were killed and another three were wounded
- Convoy consisted of soldiers from the Syrian Arab Army (SAA), National Defence Forces (NDF), Hezbollah, and Imam Al-‘Ali Battalions
Previously under the Obama administration, the US Air Force killed 62 Syrian Arab Army soldiers near Deir ez-Zor airport in a horrific war crime.
Making this event even more scandalous than the war crime which it all ready objectively is, is the fact that the attack occurred inside one of the ‘de-escalation zones’ (aka safe zones) established in Syria according to the Astana Memorandum. Russia, Turkey and Iran are guarantors of the agreement which has the backing of the United Nations, Syrian government and the apparent tacit approval of the United States.
According to a US official,
“The strike did happen. It was against a pro-regime force operating in the vicinity of At Tanf. This regime force was operating within a well-established de-confliction (de-escalation) zone.
The commander on the ground perceived this force to be a threat to coalition forces”.
According to Fox News, a further military official said that the attack does not represent an escalation nor a change in US policy. This indicates that America is in damage control mode rather than attack mode. This fact should not be misunderstood simply because America’s style of damage control is equally arrogant to its overtly aggressive statements.
According to a statement from the US coalition,
“This action was taken after apparent Russian attempts to dissuade Syrian pro-regime movement south towards At Tanf were unsuccessful, a coalition aircraft show of force, and the firing of warning shot”.
This is indicative of the fact that Russia does not exceed its mandate in the conflict which is merely to aid Syria in fighting terrorism. Russia has no mandate to mediate between let alone controls parties in Syria. Russia can and will advise but will not impose.
Many will be quick to say that this incident means the de-escalation zones are a failure. The United States has indeed violated both the letter and spirit of the Astana Memorandum. However, the United States was not a signatory to the agreement and therefore is not technically bound by it. Furthermore, the de-escalation zones should have always been seen as a political move to attempt to isolate Turkey and the United States from having a leading hand in shaping the peace process. In this sense, the Astana Memorandum creating these zones has all ready been partly successful.
The UN Security Council did ratify the Astana Memorandum, therefore Russia has the absolute right and indeed duty to question America’s attack and force America to justify their criminal action. However, Russia is clearly not going to risk shooting down American jets for violating the sanctity of the de-escalation zones. Anyone who ever thought otherwise was never being realistic.
While not directly bound by the letter of the Astana Memorandum, America is bound by international law and under international law the very presence of US military forces in any part of Syria is totally illegal. This is why today’s event is a war crime.
If it hasn’t all ready been suggested, it almost certainly will be suggested that Donald Trump ordered the strike in an attempt to distract the media from the scandals surrounding the firing of FBI director James Comey as well as the separate issue of the leaks from Donald Trump’s private meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
In reality, this appears to be a decision which was made by commanders on the ground. It was clearly an incorrect decision. However, it had none of the political fanfare which surrounded the Trump ordered missile attack on Syria from the 6th of April this year. Instead, the attack was relatively low key in terms of both symbolism and public premeditation.
Also, while many in Washington spoke openly of regime change surrounding the April 6 attack, today’s statements seem to be playing down the significance of the attack. This gives the impression that the American side is telling the truth when saying that it does not reflect a change in policy.
Furthermore, the mainstream media are not even giving the story much publicity. As of 21.14 Moscow time on the 18th of May, 2017, the story doesn’t even feature in the top stories on CNN’s website.
Even if Trump ordered the strike in order to change the headlines from Russiagate, it hasn’t worked.
Most importantly, this does not necessarily demonstrate that the US is thoroughly disinterested in easing tensions with Russia over Syria. What it does mean is that US commanders acting unilaterally with the authority Donald Trump has given them, will continue to commit crimes and blunders.
This incident was both.