The Pentagon has said that the US-led coalition’s airstrike on the Syrian Arab Army’s base in Deir el-Zor was unintentional, but Russian officials and lawmakers have been concerned that the attack, the first ever by the US-led forces on the Syrian troops, could have been a “deliberate” move that risks undermining the Russia-US brokered ceasefire.
Sixty-two servicemen were killed in US-led coalition’s airstrikes at the Syrian government forces, a spokesman for Syrian forces told a briefing on Sunday.
“As a result of airstrikes at the positions of the armed forces of the Syrian Arab Republic, losses reached 160 people, including 62 killed. Twenty units of weapons and military equipment were destroyed, including three tanks, three infantry fighting vehicles, four mortars and one anti-aircraft gun,” the spokesman said.
“I think that US flagrantly violated the agreement on cessation of hostilities. We are getting an impression that by delivering this airstrike, the coalition’s aviation cleared the way for ISIL (Islamic State terrorist organization banned in Russia) militants who can now capture the city of Deir ez-Zor without any obstacles,” he noted.
According to the Russian Ministry of Defense, two F-16 fighter jets and two A10 ground attack aircraft that entered Syrian airspace from Iraq launched airstrikes against the SAA base in the city of Deir el-Zor, leaving at least 62 Syrian servicemen killed and more than 100 wounded.
First Deputy Chairman of the Defense and Security Committee in Russia’s Federation Council Franz Klintsevich maintained that what happened in Deir ez-Zor on Saturday was not an accident.
“The US conducted airstrikes on government forces in Syria deliberately and thoughtfully. Any aerial operation is coordinated with commanders on the ground. In this case [the US] used information received from their intelligence units who infiltrated Daesh,” he told RIA Novosti. The airstrike on the SAA in Deir ez-Zor, he added, reflected America’s double standards.
Klintsevich explained that policymakers in the US pursue a single goal in Syria. “They want to depose President Bashar al-Assad, bring the opposition to power and maintain their economic interests,” he said.
The senator also suggested that the attack could have been “a provocation, a desire to see how we will react.” Klintsevich further said that the United States is not really interested in destroying the brutal group that still controls large parts of Iraq and Syria.
The US’ sudden attempt to “help” the Syrian army fighting ISIS in the eastern city of Deir ez-Zor, which resulted in a strike that killed and injured dozens of soldiers, does not look like an honest mistake, Russia’s UN envoy told journalists at the UNSC meeting.
“It is highly suspicious that the United States chose to conduct this particular air strike at this time,” Russia’s ambassador Vitaly Churkin said.
Churkin questioned why the US suddenly chose to “help” the Syrian army defend Deir ez-Zor after all these years, recalling how American forces just observed terrorists’ movements and did “nothing when ISIS advanced on Palmyra.”
“It was quite significant and not accidental that it happened just two days before the Russian-American arrangements were supposed to come into full force,” Churkin added.
Churkin also questioned why the US decided to classify and not share with the public or even members of the Security Council the text of the US-Russia deal reached in Geneva, before reading out two passages from the document.
The preamble of the document signed by both nations on September 9 read that the US and Russia are prepared to undertake “joint efforts” to stabilize the situation in Syria with special emphasis on the Aleppo region,and would separate moderate opposition forces from those of Al-Nusra. The second passage, presented by Churkin, read that the purpose of the Joint Implementation Group (JIG) is to “enable expanded coordination” between the US and Russia to work together to defeat Jabhat Al-Nusra and Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) and support the political transition process.
“The beginning of work of the Joint Implementation Group was supposed to be September 19. So if the US wanted to conduct an effective strike on Al-Nusra or ISIS, in Deir ez-Zor or anywhere else, they could wait two more days and coordinate with our military and be sure that they are striking the right people.”
“Instead they chose to conduct this reckless operation,” Churkin said.
He also noted that the US has been voicing its concern over the humanitarian situation in Syria, claiming that because of it, “there are no conditions to start implementing the arrangements of the Joint Implementation Group.” But the Syrian government cleared all obstacles for the humanitarian aid it be delivered, leaving the US with “no serious ground” to halt or postpone the start date of the JIG’s work.
“So it may well be, one has to conclude, that the airstrike has been conducted in order to distrust the operation of the Joint Implementation Group and actually not to allow it to be set in motion,” Churkin said. “It may well be that the United States is trying to hide the fact that they are actually not in control of the situation, that they allowed the situation to get out of control.”
Vitaly Churkin spoke to journalists after briefly leaving the closed-door UN Security Council meeting, which was convened by Moscow to give Washington a chance to offer an explanation for the actions of its military.
However, instead of discussing the issue, US ambassador Samantha Power immediately left the room to address the press and accuse Russia of hypocrisy.
The US envoy to the UN spent some 30 seconds expressing “regret” over the unfortunate coalition airstrike that resulted in the loss of the lives of Syrian soldiers, and insisting that even if the ongoing investigation proves the US military is indeed to blame, it had never been their “intention” to strike Syrian military.
After that, Power spent the next 15 minutes slamming Moscow’s “uniquely hypocritical and cynical” attempt to make Washington explain itself at an urgent UNSC meeting.
“Why are we having this meeting tonight? It is a diversion from what is happening on the ground. If you don’t like what is happening on the ground then you distract. It is a magician’s trick… we encourage the Russian Federation to have emergency meetings with the Assad regime and deliver them to this deal,” said Samantha Power.
“What Russia is alleging tonight is that somehow the United States is undermining the fighting against ISIL. The Russian spokesperson even said that the United States might be complicit in this attack … this is not a game,” she added, before going into details of how Assad government is to blame for the dire situation in Syria.
The Russian Defense Ministry spokesman, Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, noted that if the airstrike was an accident, it was “a direct consequence of the US’ unwillingness to coordinate its actions against terrorist groups with Russia.”