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US admits it has no idea who attacked Aleppo UN humanitarian convoy

As top US officials admit they do not know who attacked the Aleppo relief convoy all prospects of an impartial investigation fade away.

Alexander Mercouris

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One of the overlooked comments US General Dunford, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, made at the Senate hearing on Thursday, concerned the recent attack on the relief convoy near Aleppo, which has recently been so much in the news. 

Here is what he said

I don’t have the facts.  There is no doubt in my mind that the Russians are responsible.”

(bold italics added)

And here is what US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter said, testifying at the same Senate hearing alongside General Dunford

“The Russians are responsible for this strike whether they conducted it or not.”

(bold italics added)

In other words, despite the tidal wave of claims which have been flowing saying the Russians attacked the convoy, and despite the claims to that effect made by the anonymous US officials who have been prowling behind the scenes through the Western media, the US does not actually know that the Russians attacked the convoy.  US General Dunford “doesn’t have the facts” and US Defence Secretary Carter cannot say whether the Russians “conducted (the attack) or not”

I presume Dunford and Carter, respectively the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the US Secretary of Defence, are the sort of people who would know if US intelligence was reporting that the Russians carried out the attack.  I can see no reason why they would fail to say that the Russians carried out the attack if that is what US intelligence was actually reporting.  The fact that they are saying that they don’t know must mean that US intelligence – and therefore the US government – doesn’t know either.  

Basically what the US is saying is: we know it wasn’t us; it could only therefore have been the Syrians or the Russians; only the Russians have the necessary technology and two of their SU24s were in the area; therefore it must have been the Russians.

This is not knowledge or evidence but a chain of inference.

To confuse matters, judging by a piece by the Moon of Alabama, the US story appears to have shifted so that the US is now apparently claiming that both the Syrians and the Russians jointly carried out the attack.

It is sometimes possible to infer the truth of who was behind a particular attack by looking at the evidence, but can it actually be done in this case?  The short answer I would say is no. 

Since the attack is being called by some a war crime, it would seem a basic step first to secure and inspect what in that case would be a crime scene before drawing any inferences and making any accusations.  Almost a week after the attack not only has that not been done, but no one seems to be in any hurry to do it.

With the crime scene not secured, the possibility of contamination or outright manipulation of the evidence is very real, especially given the strong incentive to do so of the Jihadi fighters who are in physical control of it.  After all that is what many claim the Jihadi fighters did to the scene of the chemical attack on Ghouta in August 2013. 

In light of this photographs which have been circulating, which supposedly show the fin of a Russian bomb at the scene of the attack, can carry no weight, and must be disregarded, especially as the bomb in question appears to be one of the most commonly used in Syria, which would make finding and planting a sample of one at the scene of the attack a relatively straightforward matter.

In the absence of any actual evidence that the Russians carried out the attack, the US and the Western media have fallen back on ridiculing what the Russians have said about it.  Unfortunately the clever way this has been done – notably by US Secretary of State Kerry at the UN Security Council – has confused many people, including someone as level headed as the veteran British correspondent Patrick Cockburn.

Briefly, and contrary to the impression given by Kerry and others, the Russians have not said how the convoy was attacked or by whom or how it came to be destroyed.  They have merely denied that they or the Syrians did it, and have provided commentaries on what they say is some of the evidence they have or which they have seen. 

That evidence includes a video which they say shows armed Jihadis shadowing the convoy in a vehicle equipped with a mortar, information that a US Predator drone was in the area, and analysis of video evidence of opposition activists which they suggest shows that the convoy was set on fire, and was not destroyed as the result of an air strike.

The Russian claims about armed Jihadis near the convoy and the US Predator drone in the area do not look to me like claims that the convoy was attacked because it was being used as cover by the Jihadis, or that the Jihadis blew up the convoy with a mortar, or that the US Predator drone attacked it – all claims I have seen alleged that the Russians have made.  The Russians have never made those claims, though others have done so on the strength of the commentary and evidence the Russians have provided. 

Rather these Russian claims seem to me intended to counter US claims that the Russians “must have” attacked the convoy because two of their SU24s were in the area.  The point the Russians are making is that if their SU24s were in the area, then so were the Jihadis and the US (in the form of the Predator drone), and to construe that it “must have been” the Russians who attacked the convoy merely because their SU24s happened to be in the area is therefore unwarranted.

As for the analysis of the video evidence that the convoy was set on fire, as the Russians have themselves admitted, that is purely speculative.  Without a proper inspection of the scene of the convoy attack one simply cannot know.

In my experience the invariable response of someone trying to cover up their involvement in a crime is to hit on a single made-up story of how the crime was committed, and to stick to it whilst providing an alibi.  That that is not what the Russians are doing does not prove them innocent, but it is definitely not the sign of guilt some are taking it for.  If anything it suggests that the Russians genuinely do not know what happened to the convoy, which might be why they are calling for the attack on the convoy to be independently investigated. 

All other things being equal, the fact the Russians are calling for an independent investigation also suggests that they are unlikely to have done it.  As a general rule someone who has committed a crime is usually the last person to call for an independent investigation of the crime, especially if the crime scene is not in their control.  If the Russians did attack the convoy – or if the Syrians attacked the convoy and the Russians know the Syrians attacked it – then the Russian demand for an investigation looks like a frankly reckless double-bluff.

Again none of this proves that the Russians are innocent.  Moreover anyone who wants to dispute the commentary or the evidence the Russians have put forward is at liberty to do so, though they do their credibility no favours if they do so by resorting to sarcasm and ridicule.  However it is interesting that so far it is the Russians who are calling for an investigation whilst none of those who are accusing them is doing so.

In the meantime I do not think it is worthwhile speculating on how the convoy was destroyed or by whom.  I do not think anywhere near enough facts are known to make it possible for anyone to say.  In the absence of a proper investigation – or even an inspection of the site of the attack – any claim can be no more than a guess.  If people like Dunford and Carter don’t have the necessary facts then it is impossible that anyone else commenting on what happened from afar can have either.

Sadly I must also say that I do not think that how the convoy came to be attacked or by whom will ever be known.  Quite simply those who are in a position to find out the truth are not interested in doing so. 

For the US the attack on the convoy came at a very convenient moment, when it was on the defensive following its attack on the Syrian troops defending Deir Ezzor.  Whilst that does not mean it was the US which attacked the convoy or which ordered the attack on the convoy  – for the record, I don’t think the US did either of those things – it does mean that the US has no incentive to find out the truth of what happened in case that might undermine a story that has served it so well. 

With the US’s proxies in control of the scene of the attack that all but guarantees that no proper investigation of this incident will ever take place, which in turn means that the truth of what happened will never become known.

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4 resignations and counting: May’s government ‘falling apart before our eyes’ over Brexit deal

The beginning of the end for Theresa May’s government.

The Duran

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Via RT


Four high profile resignations have followed on the heels of Theresa May’s announcement that her cabinet has settled on a Brexit deal, with Labour claiming that the Conservative government is at risk of completely dissolving.

Shailesh Vara, the Minister of State at the Northern Ireland Office was the first top official to resign after the prime minister announced that her cabinet had reached a draft EU withdrawal agreement.

An hour after his announcement, Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab – the man charged with negotiating and finalizing the deal – said he was stepping down, stating that the Brexit deal in its current form suffers from deep flaws. Esther McVey, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, submitted her letter of resignation shortly afterwards. More resignations have followed.

Labour’s shadow Cabinet Office minister, Jon Trickett, predicted that this is the beginning of the end for May’s government.

The government is falling apart before our eyes as for a second time the Brexit secretary has refused to back the prime minister’s Brexit plan. This so-called deal has unraveled before our eyes

Shailesh Vara: UK to be stuck in ‘a half-way house with no time limit’

Kicking off Thursday’s string of resignations, Vara didn’t mince words when describing his reservations about the cabinet-stamped Brexit deal.

Theresa May’s EU withdrawal agreement leaves the UK in a “halfway house with no time limit on when we will finally become a sovereign nation,” his letter of resignation states. Vara went on to warn that the draft agreement leaves a number of critical issues undecided, predicting that it “will take years to conclude” a trade deal with the bloc.

“We will be locked in a customs arrangement indefinitely, bound by rules determined by the EU over which we have no say,” he added.

Dominic Raab: Deal can’t be ‘reconciled’ with promises made to public

Announcing his resignation on Thursday morning, Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab tweeted: “I cannot in good conscience support the terms proposed for our deal with the EU.”

Raab claimed that the deal in its current form gives the EU veto power over the UK’s ability to annul the deal.

No democratic nation has ever signed up to be bound by such an extensive regime.

Former Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan Smith said that Raab’s resignation as Brexit secretary is “devastating” for May.

“It sounds like he has been ignored,” he told the BBC.

Raab’s departure will undoubtedly encourage other Brexit supporters to question the deal, political commentators have observed.

Esther McVey: Deal ‘does not honor’ Brexit referendum

Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey didn’t hold back when issuing her own letter of resignation. According to McVey, the deal “does not honour” the result of the Brexit referendum, in which a majority of Brits voted to leave the European Union.

Suella Braverman: ‘Unable to sincerely support’ deal

Suella Braverman, a junior minister in Britain’s Brexit ministry, issued her resignation on Thursday, saying that she couldn’t stomach the deal.

“I now find myself unable to sincerely support the deal agreed yesterday by cabinet,” she said in a letter posted on Twitter.

Suella Braverman, MP Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the Department for Exiting the EU © Global Look Press / Joel Goodman
Braverman said that the deal is not what the British people voted for, and threatened to tear the country apart.

“It prevents an unequivocal exit from a customs union with the EU,” she said.

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Five Saudis Face Death Penalty Over Khashoggi Killing; Crown Prince Cleared

According to the Saudi prosecutor, five people charged are believed to have been involved in “ordering and executing the crime.”

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Via Zerohedge


Saudi Arabia public prosecutor Sheikh Shaalan al-Shaalan said on Thursday that the kingdom will seek the death penalty for five suspects among the 11 charged in the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, confirming suspicions that members of the murder squad purportedly sent to “interrogate” Khashoggi will now themselves face beheadings as the Saudi Royal Family closes ranks around the Crown Prince, per the FT.

As for Mohammed bin Salman who runs the day to day affairs of the world’s top oil exporter and is the de facto head of OPEC, the prosecutor said had “no knowledge” of the mission, effectively absolving him of any domestic suspicion, if not international.

The charges were handed down after the kingdom dismissed five senior intelligence officers and arrested 18 Saudi nationals in connection with Khashoggi’s disappearance. The Saudi insider-turned-dissident journalist disappeared on Oct. 2 after entering the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul to pick up documents that would have allowed him to marry his fiance. Khashoggi was a legal resident of Virginia.

According to the Saudi prosecutor, five people charged are believed to have been involved in “ordering and executing the crime,” according to CNN.

The prosecutor said that the former Saudi deputy intelligence chief, Ahmed al-Assiri, ordered a mission to force Khashoggi to go back to Saudi Arabia and formed a team of 15 people.

They were divided into three groups, the Saudi Public Prosecutor said: a negotiation team, an intelligence team and a logistical team.

It was the head of the negotiating team who ordered the killing of Khashoggi, the prosecutor said.

The Saudis stuck by latest (ever changing) narrative that the Washington Post columnist was killed after a mission to abduct him went awry. The deputy chief of intelligence ordered that Khashoggi be brought back to the kingdom, Shaalan said. The team killed him after the talks failed and his body was handed to a “collaborator” in Turkey, he said.

Asked whether Saud al-Qahtanti, an aide to Prince Mohammed, had any role in the case, Shaalan said that a royal adviser had a coordinating role and had provided information. The former adviser was now under investigation, the prosecutor said, declining to reveal the names of any of those facing charges.

Al-Shaalan did reveal that a total of 21 suspects are now being held in connection with the case. Notably, the decision to charge the 5 comes after National Security Advisor John Bolton repudiated reports that a recording of Khashoggi’s murder made by Turkish authorities suggested that Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman was behind the murder plot.

But as long as OPEC+ is planning to do “whatever it takes” to boost oil prices, the US’s willingness to give the Saudis a pass could always be tested if crude prices again turn sharply higher.

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U.S. May Impose Sanctions Against Turkey Over S-400 “Threat” To F-35

The United States continues to consider the S-400 air defense system a threat to its F-35 fifth generation stealth fighter platform.

The Duran

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Authored by Al Masdar News:


Turkish officials have repeatedly insisted that Ankara’s purchase of the advanced Russian air defense system poses no threat whatsoever to the NATO alliance. Last month, the Turkish defense ministry announced that delivery of S-400s to Turkey would begin in October 2019.

The United States continues to consider the S-400 air defense system a threat to its F-35 fifth generation stealth fighter platform, and may impose sanctions against Ankara, Turkey’s Anadolu news agency has reported, citing a high-ranking source in Washington.

“I can’t say for certain whether sanctions will be imposed on Ankara over the S-400 contract, but the possibility is there. The US administration is not optimistic about this issue,” the source said.

While admitting that Turkey was a sovereign state and therefore had the right to make decisions on whom it buys its weapons from, the source stressed that from the perspective of these weapons’ integration with NATO systems, the S-400 was “problematic.”

The source also characterized the deployment of S-400s in areas where US F-35 fifth-generation stealth fighters are set to fly as “a threat,” without elaborating.

Emphasizing that negotiations between Washington and Ankara on the issue were “continuing,” the source said that there were also “positive tendencies” in negotiations between the two countries on the procurement of the Patriot system, Washington’s closest analogue to the S-400 in terms of capabilities.

Designed to stop enemy aircraft, cruise and ballistic missiles at ranges of up to 400 km and altitudes of up to 30 km, the S-400 is currently the most advanced mobile air defense system in Russia’s arsenal. Russia and India signed a ruble-denominated contract on the delivery of five regiments of S-400s worth $5 billion late last month.

Last week, the Saudi Ambassador to Russia said that talks on the sale of the system to his country were ongoing. In addition to Russia, S-400s are presently operated by Belarus and China, with Beijing expecting another delivery of S-400s by 2020.

Washington has already slapped China with sanctions over its purchase of S-400s and Su-35 combat aircraft in September. India, however, has voiced confidence that it would not be hit with similar restrictions, which the US Treasury has pursued under the 2017 Counter America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA).

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