Fading US Legitimacy After "Accidental" Airstrike on Syrian Forces

September 22, 2016 New Eastern Outlook

The US-Russia ceasefire agreement in Syria seemed near collapse late Saturday, when US airstrikes killed dozens of Syrian soldiers “by mistake”. According to US Defense Department officials the strike “appears to be an intelligence failure.”

As it’s been noted by the American Conservative, if we are to assume that this was done by mistake, it is a damaging and embarrassing error. It is even more embarrassing because the strike hit Syrian forces that were fighting ISIS. Because the error effectively benefited ISIS, the strike has provided Syria and Russia with a ready-made story to use as part of their propaganda that ISIS is either backed or created by the US. Coming on the heels of the ceasefire agreement with Moscow, the timing of this incident could not have been worse.

European and American media sources have been active in commenting about the jeopardized truce agreement in Syria and the unlawful bombardment of Syrian troops that US authorities are trying to explain as simply a case of “confusion.”

Immediately after this airstrike, Syrian officials announced the end of a seven-day “ceasefire”, without providing any information about its possible extension, Reuters reported. The army accused terrorist groups of having not fulfilled a single paragraph of the agreement reached during the negotiations held by the US State Department and Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and instead took advantage of them.

According to the Swiss Le Temps, Washington has suffered a major loss in credibility, and its attempts to apologize and put forward contradictory versions of the incident are not helping either . If it was a mistake, it would mean that the US Air Force attempted to assist Syrian armed forces in Deir ez-Zor, the forces controlled by Bashar al-Assad who the United States demanded to step down time and time again. The Swiss newspaper seems unable to come to grips with this fact, demanding to know how this could be possible. The United States has itself trapped in Syria, with its credibility undermined at every turn and its officials taking a defensive footing in negotiations, the media source notes.

The Turkish Milli Gazete is noting that the Syrian conflict has recently become a puzzling matter. Nobody can say who is fighting for which side and for what reason. Stray bullets are now being replaced by “accidental bombings” that are being explained by unlikely pretexts. US forces have been known for such airstrikes in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and here we are now in Syria. In fact, the United States did not deny it. With Turkey entering the Syrian conflict, the balance of power in the conflict has changed yet again, and now the struggle for control of a geographical triangle encompassing Aleppo, Raqqah and Mosul is getting dangerous. The newspaper notes that the side that would find itself in control of this triangle, will be able to implement projects of regional domination well into the foreseeable future. Therefore, should the parties fail to reach an agreement at the negotiation table, then a third world war, which is now being waged covertly, may become more overt.

The Swedish Aftonbladet emphasizes the fact that one would be unable to find matching descriptions of the bombardment in different US sources.

For example, The New York Times, one of the most prominent sources of news in the West, would note:
The United States acknowledged on Saturday that its warplanes had carried out an airstrike inSyria that resulted in the deaths of Syrian government troops. American military officials said the pilots in the attack, in the eastern province of Deir al-Zour, believed they were targeting the Islamic State.
A senior Obama administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the strike was still being investigated, said the United States had relayed its regrets to the Syrian government through the Russians for the “unintentional loss of life of Syrian forces” fighting the Islamic State.
The Syrian news agency SANA describes the airstrikes as an act of “direct aggression”, stressing that this was a “war crime.”

The Israeli Haaretz underlines the fact that there is no reason not to question the statements made by Russia’s official sources, especially when one is to consider the fact that the United States still refuses to release any details about the nature of the cease-fire agreement. If the agreement reached implied there must be a division of the opposition forces in the Aleppo area, which has become a point of contention between the warring parties, then certain opposition forces were supposed to leave the areas they control, or even divide the control over these areas with the group Jabhat Fateh al-Sham. Until now, Washington has refused to comply with this requirement. It is possible that the refusal to release the details of this agreement is governed by concerns that opposition forces may turn their back on Washington when they learn that the US agreed to separate moderate groups from radical ones, derailing the negotiations entirely. For Russia, the bombing was proof that the United States is unable to coordinate its actions with the opposition, therefore the agreement has little chance to succeed.

Against the background of Washington’s willingness to pay compensation for the relatives of those it unlawfully murders, would it be too much of a stretch to demand compensation for the deaths and injuries inflicted by the US Air Force upon hundreds of Syrian soldiers?

Jean PĂ©rier is an independent researcher and analyst and a renowned expert on the Near and Middle East, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”