Who Ordered the US Air Strike on a Syrian Army Post? A Secret Probe Seeks an Answer
US-led coalition forces had never before intervened in the battle between the Islamic State and the Syrian army over the eastern region of Deir ez-Zour. So why did they do so on Sept. 17, when US Air Force A10 jets taking off from the Ayn al-Asad base in Iraqi Anbar bomb the Syrian position at Jebel Tudar? Damascus claimed 80 troops killed and 150 injured in that air strike.
It took place shortly after the Syrian army seized the upper hand in the fierce battle with ISIS over Jebel Tudar with the help of massive reinforcements from Damascus and intensive air strikes. The coalition had never before stepped into the battle for preventing Deir ez-Zour falling into ISIS’ hands, without prior coordination with the Syrian army through the Russians.
After the event, the US Central Command presented it as a regrettable mistake: “Coalition forces believed they were striking a Da’esh fighting position that they have been tracking for a significant amount of time before the strike.”
DEBKA Weekly’s military sources find it hard to accept that Jebel Tudar, a lonely, unpopulated hilltop post in a desert area near the Iraqi border, was bombed by mistake. (See attached map). It was the easternmost Syrian military forward position in an uninhabited area near the Iraqi border and the Euphrates Valley.
Even the pilots of the slow, World War II A-10 Thunderbolt single-seat, twin turbofan engine bombers could not have avoided seeing with the naked eye that they were striking an isolated Syrian army position rather than ISIS.
According to our intelligence and Washington sources, the Pentagon, on orders from President Barack Obama, this week appointed a secret inquiry commission to get to the bottom of this event. Its report will be submitted directly to the president and secretary of defense.
A mistake by the pilot would be hard to credit in this case. Before they took off, the air crew was briefed with orders to bomb Jebel Tudar, which was described as an ISIS post. No officer in the entire US chain of command mentioned a Syrian military position at this location.
All this leads to the presumption that someone in the American military or intelligence system, who was motivated by a desire to derail Obama’s bid for military cooperation with Russia in Syria, conspired to engineer the bombing of the Syrian post to achieve this effect.
The Russians didn’t come out of this episode either with clean hands.
Their command centers in Syria and Moscow are alert to the slightest movements on the ground and air of the war-torn country and could have warned Washington or CENTCOM of what was coming. But a decision was taken at some level to let Obama stew in the mess.
It was understood in Washington that the aerial bombardment on the night of Monday, Sept. 19 of a Syrian Arab Red Crescent aid convoy and warehouse at Urum al-Kubra, west of Aleppo, killing 20 aid workers, was staged in retaliation for the US bombardment of Jebel Tudar.
The primary purpose of the US-Russian brokered truce that was supposed to go into effect a week earlier was to allow humanitarian aid to reach the desperate population in rebel-held areas of Aleppo.
The next day, this statement came from a Washington official: “The US has reached the preliminary conclusion that two Russian warplanes bombed the aid convoy. All the evidence we have points to that conclusion,” he said.
Russia strongly denied any involvement by its own aircraft and dismissed all evidence to the contrary. Indeed, a senior Russian officer Igor Konashenkov shot back with another accusation: Before the aid convoy was hit, he said, a Russian drone had photographed a small pick-up truck carrying heavy machine guns and ammo for the rebels concealed in the convoy carrying humanitarian assistance for Aleppo.
Amid these mutual recriminations, the US has stuck to its charges against Russia.
Nonetheless, the White House appeared to be making some effort to salvage a vestige of Washington’s cooperation deal with Moscow. A behind-the-scenes effort was made, for instance, to block a House of Representatives vote on a bipartisan sanctions bill against the Assad regime for war crimes and atrocities against civilians. Bowing to the White House, the Democratic leaders withdrew their support for a vote on the bill for now.