US Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power last weekend unleashed a tirade of vitriol at the emergency session of the UN called by Russia following US-led coalition airstrikes which killed approximately 80 Syrian soldiers in Deir ez-Zor last Saturday.
Vile bizarre, ugly, is how Jason Ditz described her performance in AntiWar.com. I think he is only scratching the surface, as the petulant, almost childish performance of Power left the visibly shaken Russian Ambassador to the UN, Vitaly Churkin, to front the media, explaining that Power said she was not interested in what he had to say as what he had to say was “a stunt.” Churkin said: “I have never seen such an extraordinary display of American heavy-handedness.”
As well as labelling calling the emergency session a “stunt,” Power said Russia was grandstanding, hypocritical and accused it of killing civilians and hitting hospitals and refugee camps. The Syrian government was not spared her acid tongue either; she accused it of routinely using chemical weapons, intentionally striking civilian targets, preventing the delivery of humanitarian supplies, and brutal torture. Power glossed over the horrendous crime of the day, the slaughter of 80 Syrian soldiers, before launching into her full frontal attack on Russia and Syria. It was a slap in the face of Syrian families who have lost their fathers, husbands, brothers and sons, and of the ceasefire now hanging on tenterhooks.
It is hard to overestimate how disastrous these airstrikes were for the Syrian Army as it desperately defends a city of 200,000, where fierce battles have periodically been fought between forces loyal to Assad and the terrorists. Control of the city is divided between the two, but in addition ISIS control of routes in and out of the city effectively means the city is under blockade – by ‘ISIS’ since March 2014, but the blockade actually began two years prior to that, in mid-2012, by largely the same terrorists, but fighting under the ‘Free Syrian Army’ banner. On the few occasions when Western media has reported on Deir ez-Zor in all these years, it casts the city as being under blockade by both ISIS and the Syrian army, an utterly ridiculous assertion that plays into the phony narrative of the war on Syria being a ‘civil war’.
Unintentional airstrikes intentionally aiding Assad?
The airstrikes hit a Syrian Army base near the Deir ez-Zor airport in the Jabal Tharda mountain region. The base and the mountain serve as forward defence of the airport which is crucial for reinforcements, supplies and civilian aid. ISIS briefly overran the base, before Russian airstrikes, called in after the monumental US blunder, repelled ISIS forces. Nevertheless ISIS has been able to take up strategic positions overlooking the airport, as Moon of Alabama explains:
The Syrian troops were holding positions on Jabal Tharda, a mountain that overlooks Deir Ezzor’s airport. The mountain is now fully under Islamic State control. With this IS has fire control over the airport and the Deir Ezzor garrison as well as more than 150,000 civilians living under government protection are thereby cut off from supplies and any further reinforcements. Government forces have launched a counterattack to regain the vital position.
Deir ez-Zor, like other regions in Syria, has already faded into the background as the spotlight has shifted to the battle for Aleppo. It is, however, a crucial region, rich in oil and gas, and herein lies its strategic value and the imperative of controlling it.
Deir ez-Zor lies in the middle of the transit route of the Islamic pipeline, which was planned to transport gas from Iran-Iraq-Syria and on into Europe. This was the pipeline agreed to by Bashar Assad, rejecting in 2009 the competing Qatar-Turkey pipeline, a decision which effectively signed his death warrant.
ISIS are viewed by many actors on the Syrian stage as a vital asset, proving to be essential for the US in thwarting the proposed Islamic pipeline by being planted smack dab in the middle of the expected transit zone.
Samantha Power, in her bombastic statement at the UN, treated with contempt the idea that the US would deliberately target Syrian army positions, while US Central Command (CENTCOM) claimed it thought it was targeting Da’esh (ISIS) and that it would not “intentionally strike a known military unit.”
This is quite an interesting statement from CENTCOM, but it buckles when placed under scrutiny.
The first thing we must establish is that the only forces fighting in Deir-ez Zor are ISIS and the Syrian Army. Other foreign-backed terrorist groups, acutely aware of the enormous reserves of gas and oil and its location as part of the gas pipeline transit route, were prominent there in 2012, making advances against the Syrian Army, in particular the Free Syrian Army and Al-Nusra (now ‘Jabhat Fateh al-Sham’).
ISIS drove off other rebel groups, including the FSA and Al-Nusra, after a 3-month-long offensive culminated in them being in possession of all rebel-held territory by July 2014. ISIS, in a period of rapid expansion, sought to claim the strategic resources for themselves and were not inclined to share the spoils of the oil-and-gas-rich land they conquered, including their ‘caliphate’ in Raqqa, by January 2014.
The positions of the protagonists have remained fairly static since early 2015, with ISIS unable to penetrate government defences, which in turn have been unable to force ISIS into retreat. So we have a stalemate from which the positions of the forces can be ascertained. The base hit by the US airstrikes has been under Syrian Army control for a long period, allowing it to protect the airport it controls.
As US CENTCOM stated, it had been tracking ISIS positions for a significant amount of time before the strike. The US has at its disposal highly advanced surveillance systems, compromised to a degree by its lack of on-the-ground intelligence, due of course to its refusal to cooperate with the government of Bashar al-Assad, or to share whatever it does know with the Russians. In this environment it is perplexing that the US hit the Syrian Army positions. It is almost an inconceivable notion, unless we factor in the possibility that the strikes were deliberate.
The Russian Defence Ministry spokesman, Igor Konashenkov, said that if the airstrike was due to the wrong coordinates, then it was “a direct consequence of the US’ unwillingness to coordinate its actions against terrorist groups with Russia.”
Vitaly Churkin went as far as to say that this was a deliberate strike by the US, noting it was suspicious that Washington – assuming one believes its narrative that it thought it was hitting ISIS targets – is suddenly deciding to assist the Syrian Army in Deir ez-Zor.
Bouthaina Shaaban, political and media adviser to Bashar al-Assad, observed that the US planes flew over the positions of ISIS fighters, launched their strikes on Syrian forces, then passed back over ISIS positions, who subsequently launched an attack against depleted and battered Syrian forces, overrunning their positions at Jabal Tharda mountain, before Russian air force intervention allowed the Syrian Army to retake some lost ground. Shaaban questioned how the, purportedly, ‘most powerful military on earth’ could make such a mistake. Credulity is stretched widely by this claim of ‘an honest US mistake’.
Another thing to consider is the rationale for the US launching airstrikes in this location. US airstrikes are primarily targeted in support of Syrian Democratic Forces, the Kurdish YPG, and in so-called targeted strikes against ISIS key infrastructure and military assets. The US has never professed any willingness to work in tandem with the Syrian government, much less provide air support for it. To strike ISIS in this location can’t be reasonably interpreted in any other manner apart from supporting Syrian government forces. Perhaps the question could be put to the US administration: are you secretly supporting the legitimate government of Syria? But this would be a tongue-in-cheek, rhetorical question, as we know full well that it is not.
Intentional or not, there are a number of points which summarise the devastating impact the strikes had on the Syrian army and the tremendous benefits they bestowed on ISIS:
- They killed around 80 Syrian soldiers
- They destroyed a large amount of military equipment
- They allowed ISIS to occupy the heights around the airport
- ISIS occupation of the area around the airport threatens to cut off supplies coming into the airport
- It allows ISIS to threaten planes, and they already shot down a Syrian jet last Sunday
- They allow ISIS to tighten the siege on Deir ez-Zor, placing the city at risk of falling under their total control
Another indication that the airstrikes may have been deliberate lies in the evidence that competing power centres seem to be in play in Washington. The war-hawks may have gotten their revenge for the peacemakers’ ceasefire. Defence Secretary Ashton Carter shows very little enthusiasm when it comes to cooperating with Russia, the country he has top of his ‘threat list’, while less blinkered American top brass apparently understand that there’s no getting around the fact that they must accommodate Russia’s interests in all this.
The ceasefire deal has not been universally accepted by US officials. Ashton Carter gave it a lukewarm reaction in keeping with his anti-Russia/Syria stance. Samantha Power, in her venomous remarks at the UN, leaves little room for doubt that she views Russia as an adversary. Her scathing criticism of Russia and Syria is rooted in a mindset of perceived superiority, arrogance and conquest, unable to get past the antagonism and hyperbole of war and proceed to level-headed rational conflict resolution.
The forgotten siege of Deir ez-Zor
Under siege for almost 4 years now, Deir ez-zor is a city of 200,000 civilians suffering a humanitarian crisis. In terms of international coverage, it has been a poor second cousin to Madaya. US and UK government agency-funded regime-change propagandists such as The White Helmets, The Syria Campaign and Hand-in-Hand With Syria ensure that the plight of Deir ez-Zor is swept under the carpet, while they amplify coverage of sieges of terrorist-held areas where they are embedded. Nevertheless, it is a site of intense suffering and starvation. Deaths from malnutrition and starvation have been reported, despite the best efforts of joint Russian-Syrian government deliveries of hundreds of tons of humanitarian aid, in addition to supplies from the United Nations World Food Program.
People there have to rely on eating grass and plants to survive, as basic food and fuel prices have spiralled under the control of ISIS. Faced with a decline in their revenues, suffering civilians are an easy target for price manipulation to compensate for declining revenues. Civilians also contend with the fear of ISIS shelling, which has caused civilian cas
ualties and the loss of electricity to many parts of the city.
Deir ez-Zor suffers the consequences of Syrian Army forces being overstretched in their fight against numerous foreign-backed terrorist groups. The resources needed to make gains made in other areas detract from the forces needed to lift the siege of Deir ez-Zor and drive ISIS out.
Russian airstrikes aid in stalling ISIS advances on besieged government positions, in recent days killing 15 and wounding 40. The US airstrike could have disastrous consequences beyond the immediate loss of life of numerous Syrian soldiers and the capture by ISIS of the vital Thardeh Mountains overlooking the areas under government control.
The long-suffering people of Deir ez-Zor face an increased risk of being overrun by ISIS following the destructive US coalition airstrikes. They will feel even more vindicated in their widespread belief that the US created ISIS, unleashing the hounds of hell on their country.
The upshot of the heinous airstrikes is that Deir ez-Zor is still under siege. The western media forgets about this siege, even as it gives widespread coverage to the airstrikes. Its focus of “concern” for those suffering from sieges remains in Jabhat Fateh al-Sham-dominated east Aleppo. The ceasefire lies in tatters, just like Samantha Power’s reputation.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova suggested that Power, rather than rub shoulders with Jabhat Fateh al-Sham terrorists and the “moderate opposition”, could visit Syria with Zakharova and meet people who are still alive “despite the almost six-year-old bloody experiment being staged on them with Washington’s active participation. Have no fear. With me by your side, nobody will harm you. You will have things to remember and, besides, you will have a chance to learn what ‘shame’ means.”
Paul is a budding freelance writer who currently works in the welfare industry in Melbourne, Australia.
Areas of interest include: Russia/US conflict, wars in the Middle East, particularly Syria, the conflict in Ukraine, the occupation of Palestine by Israel, the damage to our economies from the global financial markets, the debt trap imposed on states by bankers seeking to privatize assets and “reform” economies while they line their pockets with cash and impoverish local populations.