By the beginning of 2015, the war was looking abysmal for pro-Assad forces. Infighting between the al-Nusra Front reinforced by ISIL forces and the western-backed Syrian Revolutionaries Front (offshoot of the Free Syrian Army or FSA) and the Hazzm Movement resulted in an al-Nusra Front victory and successive takeover of Idlib. This left southern Syria as the last strong foothold for non-jihadist opposition fighters with even the moderate fighters later joining extremist groups like the UAE-backed Ahrar ash-Sham by mid-2015. These rebel advances drained Ba’athist government and Hezbollah morale. Beginning in May of that year, ISIL resurgence led to the capture of towns and oil fields before it conducted mass slaughter of pro-Assad civilians and soldiers, displacing thousands afterwards. Syria was effectively Balkanized along sectarian lines. This was likely a war strategy to bring President Bashar al-Assad to his knees and to the negotiation table. The Syrian president had other plans.
On September 30, 2015, at the behest of President Assad, the Russian Aerospace Forces launched a series of airstrikes against ISIL and FSA, prompting President Obama’s authorization of resupplying opposition forces. Just one month later, the Pentagon cancelled its $500 million program training and arming Syrian rebels, signifying its failure. It was at this point anti-Ba’athist government commanders were receiving ample supplies of American-made anti-tank missiles in response to Russia’s frequent airstrikes against anti-Assad forces. The course of the war was turned in Assad’s favor by the time Donald Trump took the Oval Office in January 2017. Pro-government forces completely recaptured Aleppo; a cease-fire was announced between Syrian government forces and thirteen main rebel groups, excluding jihadists.
Given this progress along with then President-Elect Donald Trump’s November 2016 pledge to stay out of Syria, it looked as though this would be the end of America’s forever wars. Unfortunately, like the Obama administration, Trump’s cabinet was littered with neoconservative war-hawks, many of them ardent Zionists. This includes CIA Director and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Vice President Mike Pence, National Security Advisor John Bolton, and of course Senior Presidential Advisor Jared Kushner all of which wasted no time bombarding Trump with warmongering propaganda.
On April 4, 2017, the Syrian village of Khan Shaykhun located within the Idlib Governorate was reportedly attacked with chemical weapons. According to witnesses, the attacks had used aerosol dispersion munitions which contained an organophosphate nerve agent. At the time, Khan Shaykhun was not under Syrian government control. An estimated 72 civilians were killed, making this the deadliest use of chemical weapons during the Syrian civil war since Ghouta. The blame was immediately pinned on the Syrian government and/or Russian jets. The Syrian government and Russia denied this, insisting that the nerve agent originated from a “terrorist warehouse” which possessed “toxic substances” intended for fighters in Iraq.
The OPCW Fact Finding Mission (FFM) was unable to visit the site of the supposed attack, alluding to security risks, and instead relied on other organizations to supply the necessary evidence in order to establish whether or not a chemical attack did occur. Among these groups was the Syria Civil Defense, better known as the White Helmets headed by Raed al-Saleh, an organization which provides first response services after aerial bombardments to civilians in Syria as well as physical documentation of the war in Syria.
Upon closer inspection however, the international funding of White Helmets renders their claims of neutrality, and thus supply of ‘evidence’, dubious. An evaluation published by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs revealed not only was the ‘independent’ organization registered in Turkey, a country that supported terrorist forces in Syria, but was also closely tied to the now-dissolved Stichting Mayday Rescue Foundation (Mayday) which provided training, equipment, and mentorship financed by western countries such as the UK, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Germany, all four of which are antagonistic towards Assad. The review also acknowledged that “due to capacity issues the large majority of the volunteers are not actually vetted.”
Another benefactor of White Helmets was the State Department itself along with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The latter was founded in 1961 to promote durable socioeconomic development worldwide. According to U.S. foreign policy critic William Blum however, USAID possessed a “close working relationship with the CIA” through its Agency officers that “often operate[d] abroad under USAID cover.”
This included monetary support for regime change agitation and covert operations. For example, USAID was placed in authority over the Office of Public Safety (OPS) established by President Eisenhower in 1957. Initially, OPS was set up to train police forces overseas on how to conduct themselves professionally and incorruptible in democratic societies before descending into a CIA proxy led by agent Byron Engle. When a CIA-backed coup d’état overthrew Brazil’s democratically-elected president Joao Goulart, he was replaced with a right-wing dictatorship for the next two decades, generously supported by USAID with equipment, training (including interrogation and explosion methods), and funds.
In June 2012, nations of the Bolivarian Alliances for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA) called for its members to expel USAID from their nations citing the organization’s interference via financing NGOs intended to destabilize elected governments when their interests do not align with that of the United States.
The White Helmets operated only in the northern regions of Syria where al-Qaeda and other extremists wielded absolute control. Not even Western journalists had access to these areas. Some have tried, but faced dire consequences. In east Aleppo, this medical NGO functioned under this region’s true authority – opposition forces. Given that the head of White Helmets in Aleppo, Ammar Al-Selmo, changed his story multiple times regarding his eyewitness account of an attack on a Syrian Red Crescent truck convoy in rebel-held Urum al-Kubra, could the Khan Shaykhun FFM in good faith rely on such an organization given its questionable origins and claims?
In June 2017, Seymour Hersh who also investigated and proved conclusively that Assad was not responsible for the 2013 chemical attack on Ghouta, reported that based on sources and transcripts he presented, the release of toxic chemicals originated from materials and munitions stored close to the targeted region that was hit with a conventional bomb. This supported the Russian and Syrian explanation for Khan Shaykhun. Theodore Postol, Professor Emeritus of Science, Technology, and National Security Policy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology analyzed the available evidence from the State Department and communicated his expert opinion to former CIA analyst Larry C. Johnson:
“I have reviewed the document carefully, and I believe it can be shown, without doubt, that the document does not provide any evidence whatsoever that the US government has concrete knowledge that the government of Syria was the source of the chemical attack in Khan Shaykhun, Syria at roughly 6 to 7 a.m. on April 4, 2017.
In fact, a main piece of evidence that is cited in the document points to an attack that was executed by individuals on the ground, not from an aircraft, on the morning of April 4.
This conclusion is based on an assumption made by the White House when it cited the source of the sarin release and the photographs of that source. My own assessment is that the source was very likely tampered with or staged, so no serious conclusion could be made from the photographs cited by the White House.”
What was the evidence the US government provided? It was published photographs depicting a device dropped by a fixed wing aircraft only the Syrian government possessed. The source of the attack was a crater located on a road north of Khan Shaykun. Postol countered this by pointing out the sarin gas “was dispensed by an improvised dispersal device made from a 122 mm section of rocket tube filled with sarin and capped on both sides,” as the more logical assessment. Furthermore, not only did the report lack evidence of the attack being the result of dropped munition via aircraft, but the report also gave no evidence that indicated who was the perpetrator.
Upon closer inspection of the crater made visible via Google Earth, Postol concluded the sarin canister was placed on the ground and forcefully crushed from above instead of being launched by Syrian Arab Republic forces:
“The explosive acted on the pipe as a blunt crushing mallet. It drove the pipe into the ground while at the same time creating the crater. Since the pipe was filled with sarin, which is an incompressible fluid, as the pipe was flattened the sarin acted on the walls and ends of the pipe causing a crack along the length of the pipe and also the failure of the cap on the back end. This mechanism of dispersal is essentially the same as hitting a toothpaste tube with a large mallet, which then results in the tube failing and the toothpaste being blown in many directions depending on the exact way the toothpaste skin ruptures.”
Furthermore, as mentioned before, Russian and Iranian forces had the war turned decisively in Assad’s favor so why would he risk western intervention by attacking his own people with chemical weapons? Could rebels still desperate for a critical turn-about in the conflict attempt a false flag event to implicate Assad? Would it not be far-fetched considering then-Vice President Joe Biden spilled the beans on “the extremist elements of jihadis” in Syria as early as 2014?
Did any mainstream outlets, including the three-letter networks bother to question the validity of these claims and Trump’s subsequent revenge launch of 59 Tomahawk missiles at the Syrian airbase which killed 14 people including nine civilians? No, in fact for the first time in his presidency, Trump’s swift decision received overwhelming support from 47 major editorials for this illegal act of aggression—a whopping 83 percent out of the top 100 US newspapers.
“I am guided by the beauty of our weapons,” gleefully said by MSNBC anchor Brian Williams.
CNN host Fareed Zakaria also praised Trump in a sudden shift of tone following the strikes: “I think Donald Trump became president of the United States. I think this was actually a big moment.”
Fox News host Jeanine Pirro openly declared his “swift, decision action” in striking the Syrian airbase before a thorough investigation was formally concluded “made us proud. Finally.”
These airstrikes brought heavy condemnation from Russia and caused a critical agreement on military cooperation with the United States in Syria to a halt.
“Amid the missile strikes, it is hardly reasonable to talk about any more increase in the risk, as the risk has increased considerably,” Dmitri S. Peskov, a spokesman for President Vladimir Putin remarked. The purpose of the agreement was to diminish aerial danger in Syria by preventing accidental skirmishes between the American and Russian militaries. Now due to these reckless airstrikes which Russian officials maintained was illegal, Russia announced it would boost Syria’s air defense systems.
Another possible explanation was given by former US intelligence analysts from the 25-member Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) founded in January 2003. This group had first issued a statement accusing Bush of manipulating evidence against Iraq to push for war. Regarding Khan Shaykhun, VIPS cited their “U.S. Army contacts in the area” who claimed that “a Syrian aircraft bombed an al-Qaeda-in-Syria ammunition depot that turned out to be full of noxious chemicals and a strong wind blew the chemical-laden cloud over a nearby village where many consequently died.” Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson who was former Chief of Staff to Colin Powell, referred to sources from global chemical weapons monitoring teams as well as U.S. intelligence members, also supported this view of events.
Nearly a month after the assault on Khan Shaykhun, recently appointed Secretary of Defense, retired Marine General James “Mad Dog” Mattis said during a joint news conference with Israeli Minister of Defense Avigdor Lieberman, “There can be no doubt in the international community’s mind that Syria has retained chemical weapons in violation of its agreement and its statement that it had removed them all. I can say authoritatively they have repainted some.” Lieberman concurred with Mattis.
Prior to these retaliatory strikes on Assad, a US-led coalition was exposed using white phosphorus munitions against IS forces in Syria. The objective was to drive out terrorists from heavily populated cities in Syria. The official explanation was that white phosphorus was being used as a cover for fleeing civilians which is a recognized legal function. Troops are protected with special gear and armored vehicles to avoid exposure to the deadly chemical. Upon contact with oxygen, the substance spontaneously combusts and can burn through the skin, bone, and internal organs of unprotected civilians to which there is no antidote.
During the Iraq war in November 2004, American forces used the same chemical substance on civilians during their barrage of attacks in the Second Battle of Fallujah. The city’s population consequently suffered irreversible damage to their health. After a week of denial, the Pentagon confessed to the atrocity.
Whatever the justification for releasing white phosphorus in Raqqa, there was a distinct lack of press coverage on the use of chemical weapons if the perpetrator was the United States. This is certainly obvious when compared to the international accusatory condemnation of Assad over Khan Shaykhun before an investigation was even conducted. Neither was escalating civilian fatalities imputable to U.S. airstrikes in and around Raqqa extensively present in western media.
Trump’s presidential term gifted an arsenal of revelations for anyone struggling to understand the political arena of the still most powerful country on earth. For one, Democrat or Republican, conservative or liberal, black or white, man or woman, if one is elected to the Oval Office for at least the next four years, expect them to be coerced into the desired objectives of a foreign lobby and its iron grip on Washington. This goes for foreign policy.
Stay tuned for part three in the coming weeks where I will be going over the 2018 attack on Douma exactly one year after Khan Shaykhun.