Did the Pentagon Sabotage Syrian Peace Deal?

As the latest attempt at U.S.-Russian cooperation in Syria goes up in flames, the back story includes Pentagon resistance to the plan and the bloody U.S. airstrike on a Syrian military outpost, reports Gareth Porter for Middle East Eye.

By Gareth Porter

Another US-Russian Syria ceasefire deal has been blown up. Whether it could have survived even with a U.S.-Russian accord is open to doubt, given the incentives for Al Qaeda and its allies to destroy it. But the politics of the U.S.-Russian relationship played a central role in the denouement of the second ceasefire agreement.

The final blow may have came from the Russian-Syrian side, but what provoked the decision to end the ceasefire was the first ever U.S. strike against Syrian government forces on Sept. 17. That convinced the Russians that the Pentagon had no intention of implementing the main element of the deal that was most important to the Putin government: a joint U.S.-Russian air campaign against the Islamic State militant group and Al Qaeda through a “Joint Implementation Center.” And it is entirely credible that it was meant to do precisely that.

U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter.

U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter.

The Russians had a powerful incentive to ensure that the ceasefire would hold, especially around Aleppo. In the new ceasefire agreement, Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov had negotiated an unusually detailed set of requirements for both sides to withdraw their forces from the Castello Road, the main artery for entry into Aleppo from the north. It was understood that the “demilitarization” north of Aleppo was aimed at allowing humanitarian aid to reach the city and was, therefore, the central political focus of the ceasefire.

The Russians put great emphasis on ensuring that the Syrian army would comply with the demilitarization plan. It had established a mobile observation post on the road on Sept. 13. And both the Russians and Syrian state television reported that the Syrian army had withdrawn its heavy weaponry from the road early on Sept. 15, including video footage showing a bulldozer clearing barbed wire from the road. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also reported the Syrian army had withdrawn from the road.

But Al Qaeda’s newly renamed Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (previously the al-Nusra Front) had a clear incentive to refuse to comply with a move that could open the door to a U.S.-Russian campaign against it. Opposition sources in Aleppo claimed that no such government withdrawal had happened, and said that opposition units would not pull back from positions near the road. On the morning of Sept. 16, the Syrian army moved back into positions on the road.

Kerry and Lavrov agreed in a phone conversation that same day that the ceasefire was still holding, even though humanitarian aid convoys were still stalled in the buffer zone at the Turkish border because of the lack of permission from the Syrian government, as well as uncertainty about security on the route to Aleppo.

But Kerry also told Lavrov that the U.S. now insisted that it would establish the Joint Implementation Center only after the humanitarian aid had been delivered.

U.S. Policy Clash

That crucial shift in U.S. diplomatic position was a direct result of the aggressive opposition of the Pentagon to President Obama’s intention to enter into military cooperation with Russia in Syria. The Pentagon was motivated by an overriding interest in heading off such high-profile U.S.-Russian cooperation at a time when it is pushing for much greater U.S. military efforts to counter what it portrays as Russian aggression in a new Cold War.

President Barack Obama walks through the Rose Garden to the Oval Office following an all-appointees summer event on the South Lawn, June 13, 2016. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Barack Obama walks through the Rose Garden to the Oval Office following an all-appointees summer event on the South Lawn, June 13, 2016. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

At an extraordinary video conference with Kerry immediately after the negotiation of the ceasefire agreement was complete, Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter strongly objected to the Joint Center – especially the provision for sharing intelligence with the Russians for a campaign against the Islamic State and Al Qaeda.

Obama had overridden Carter’s objections at the time, but a New York Times story filed the night of Sept. 13  reported that Pentagon officials were still refusing to agree that the U.S. should proceed with the creation of the Joint Implementation Center if the ceasefire held for seven days.

The Times quoted Lt. Gen. Jeffrey L Harrigian, commander of the United States Air Forces Central Command (USAFCENT), as telling reporters, “I’m not saying yes or no.” He added, “It would be premature to say that we’re going to jump right into it.”

President Obama’s decision to insist that the U.S. would not participate in the joint center with Russia until humanitarian convoys had been allowed into Aleppo and elsewhere first was apparently aimed at calming the Pentagon down, but it didn’t eliminate the possibility of a joint U.S.-Russian campaign.

Late in the evening the next day, U.S. and allied planes carried out multiple strikes on a Syrian government base in the desert near one of its airbases in Deir Ezzor and killed at least 62 Syrian troops and wounded more than 100.

The Pentagon soon acknowledged what it called a mistake in targeting, but the impact on the ceasefire deal was immediate. Syria accused the U.S. of a deliberate attack on its forces, and the Russians similarly expressed doubt about the U.S. explanation.

On Monday, Sept. 19, the Syrian regime declared that the seven-day ceasefire had ended. And that same day, a major United Nations humanitarian aid convoy was being unloaded in an opposition-held town West of Aleppo when it was attacked, killing more than 20 aid workers. U.S. officials accused Russia of an air strike on the convoy, although the evidence of an air attack appeared slender, according to a Russian defense ministry spokesman. [The United Nations also withdrew its initial claim of an airstrike, saying the facts of the matter required further investigation.]

It is not difficult to imagine, however, the fury with which both Russian and Syrian governments could have reacted to the U.S. blows against both the Syrian army and the deal that had been sealed with Washington. They were certainly convinced that the U.S. air attack on Syrian troops was a clear message that the Pentagon and U.S. military leadership would not countenance any cooperation with Russia on Syria – and were warning of a Syrian campaign to come if Hillary Clinton is elected.

Attacking the aid convoy by some means may have been a brutal way of signaling a response to such messages. Unfortunately, if that turns out to be the case, the brunt of the response was borne by aid workers and civilians.

Mistake or Strategy?

The evidence that the U.S. deliberately targeted a Syrian military facility is, of course, circumstantial, and it is always possible that the strike was another of the monumental intelligence failures so common in war.

Map of Syria, showing Golan Heights in the lower left corner.

Map of Syria

But the timing of the strike – only 48 hours before the decision was to be made on whether to go ahead with the Joint Implementation Center – and its obvious impact on the ceasefire make a tight fit with the thesis that it was no mistake.

And to make the fit even tighter, Gen Harrigan, the USAFCENT commander who had refused to say that his command would go ahead with such cooperation with Russia, would almost certainly have approved a deliberate targeting of a Syrian facility.

USAFCENT planners are very familiar with the area where it bombed Syrian troops, having carried out an average of 20 such strikes a week around Deir Ezzor, a DOD official told Nancy A Youssef of The Daily Beast.

Pentagon officials acknowledged to Youssef that the USAFCENT had been watching the site for at least a couple of days, but in fact they must have been familiar with the site, which has apparently existed for at least six months or longer.

Yet no one has been able to explain how USAFCENT could have decided that a target so close to a Syrian government airbase in that government-controlled city was an Islamic State target.

Obama was strongly committed to the general strategy of cooperation with Russia as the key to trying to make headway in moving toward a ceasefire. But that strategy was based on a refusal to confront U.S. regional allies with the necessity to change course from reckless support for a jihadist-dominated opposition force.

Now that the strategy of the past year has gone up in flames, the only way Obama can establish meaningful control over Syria policy is to revisit the fundamental choices that propelled the U.S. into the sponsorship of the war in the first place.

Gareth Porter is an independent investigative journalist and winner of the 2012 Gellhorn Prize for journalism. He is the author of the newly published Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare. [This article originally appeared in Middle East Eye.]

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23 comments for “Did the Pentagon Sabotage Syrian Peace Deal?

  1. Joe Tedesky
    September 25, 2016 at 12:51 pm

    I’m not sure Obama ever had a secure handle on the Pentagon. His first Secretary of Defense was a hand me down Robert Gates, who I always thought was left hanging around to clean up the Bush mess. Hagel may have been an Obama appointee, but we all saw how short lived his reign was, so what’s that tell you? Now we have Ashe Carter, and I have a hunch that he wasn’t as much an Obama’s appointee, as he was the deep states relief pitcher.

    It appears to me that the Pentagon doesn’t want to make friends with any nation who will eventually become our future enemy in a bigger war. Why, with all of the flash points such as Ukraine, Syria, Iraq, Libya, and the South China Sea, these could possibly be places where WWIII will come to be. Historians better pay real sharp attention to all these slap for slap events, because these occurrences will be for sure what led up to the much larger catastrophe of a wider and much bigger war.

    In the end any honest interpretation of all of this will come down to how the U.S. implemented the Israeli Oded Yinon Plan. DC isn’t calling the shots, as much as Tel Aviv is the Oz behind the curtain. If this is ever exposed properly, there would be blood in the streets. My hope is that if that day ever comes towards holding anyone accountable for these war crimes, is that the real perpetrators of these human disasters will be the only ones to suffer, and not a whole ethnic group of innocents who never had a say in this in the first place.

    Here’s a link,,be sure to watch the four minute video using the embedded text under the Yinon Plan link….

    http://ahtribune.com/world/north-africa-south-west-asia/syria-crisis/1219-oded-yinon.html

  2. September 25, 2016 at 1:16 pm

    “[The United Nations also withdrew its initial claim of an airstrike, saying the facts of the matter required further investigation.]”

    right … the images presented by the news outlets of trucks with their wheels burned out, and cargo holds full of grain sacks, half unloaded, and generally undisturbed by a concussive blast is evidence enough that this was NOT the result of an aerial bombardment.
    there are no craters from bomb blasts, and the trucks are intact. it looks like material was deliberately strewn about and and then a fire was set to it.
    a clip from nbc news … they try hard to show a brutal “new low” for Syria, and Russia.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OBR_9udI8H4

  3. Reid Barnes
    September 25, 2016 at 1:51 pm

    Is Putin the problem in Syria? “At some point there’s going to be a terrorist diaspora out of Syria like we’ve never seen before,” FBI Director Comey said.

    Just ask, Who were the instigators of the Syrian genocide? It should be obvious to anyone who pays it attention and thought that the Syrian “rebels,” with their extensive supplies of weaponry, such as anti-tank missiles, and a complete command structure, had state supporters. The state supporters include NATO members, U.S., Britain, and Turkey, and Saudi Arabia. The plan was to topple Arab dictators in the Arab Spring, including Libya, Egypt and then Syria. Hillary proclaimed herself the she liberator of Libya when she said of Gaddafi, “We came, we saw, he died.” The Benghazi episode was about weapons trafficking of the Libyan military arsenal through Turkey into Syria, with the eventual help of Egypt’s replacement leader, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Morsi. But in December 2011 before the Benghazi episode, Sibel Edmonds reported that Islamist fighters were trained by the U.S. and Turkey back in May 2011 a few months before NATO overthrew Gaddafi.

    What was the U.S. role? Sibel Edmonds says the U.S. was the director and producer of the play. Remember Obama and NATO member Britain overthrew Gaddafi, and Obama wouldn’t wait for the scheduled elections in Egypt. He insisted Mubarak step down immediately and elections immediately, with the expected result that the Muslim Brotherhood’s Morsi would win election. When Obama spoke in Cairo, he had insisted that members of the Muslim Brotherhood, outlawed in Egypt after the assassination of Anwar Sadat, be given front row seats. There he identified himself as a Christian, yet included a curious parenthetical in his description of the story of Isra: “when Moses, Jesus, and Mohammed (peace be upon them) joined in prayer.” He referred to America as having a partnership with Islam (not Egypt), and at the UN Obama said, “The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam.”

    The Obama administration admitted in congressional testimony that it funneled over 600 tons of weapons to Islamist fighters in Syria. From one article (WSJ): “The utter failure of Western policy in both Libya and Syria has to be seen for what it is: not just a political blunder but a humanitarian crime.”

    US and NATO troops train on the Syrian border, May 2011 a few months before NATO overthrew Gaddafi: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XNzSmIdr3JY

    • James lake
      September 25, 2016 at 4:08 pm

      The Arab Spring! What was that legitimate uprisings or manufactured Regime change?
      After what had transpired over the years – it’s clear that there was a plan that Obama carried out.
      The blowback is being experienced in Europe and the U.S. has had at least 12 muslim related terror attacks which they try to hush up as workplace violence.

      The question I have though is why are the US establishment so wedded to Muslims / Islam? Is it because as s group they are easily manipulated/ paid to go and fight wars??

      • jaycee
        September 25, 2016 at 4:35 pm

        “legitimate uprisings or manufactured Regime change?”

        In practice they are both. The uprising receives a bit of steering and guidance via previously trained “activists” utilizing generous social media budgets. The target government is taunted to react with heavy-handedness, after which it “must go”. Mystery snipers are optional.

  4. Zachary Smith
    September 25, 2016 at 2:24 pm

    Obama could put an end to this neocon BS in short order unless 1) he’s not the person actually running US Foreign Policy or 2) he really is a true believer in the neocon beliefs.

    Either the man truly doesn’t want to stop the lunacy, or he can’t because he’s merely a figurehead.

    • John
      September 25, 2016 at 5:53 pm

      The pentagon is rogue……The CIA is rogue……Obama answers to Israel and the Fed (the squid). The great Republic of the USA is deceased……..Russia and China are ready to cancel the great whore’s membership…

    • September 26, 2016 at 11:56 am

      He’s obviously a figurehead–nothing else makes sense because with this President the inconsistency of his policies are utterly irrational and I think Barry is fairly rational.

  5. Brendan
    September 25, 2016 at 2:59 pm

    According to the Israeli website DEBKAfile, the US Defense Secretary Carter is disobeying the President’s orders to cooperate with Russia. DEBKAfile is considered by many people to be biased, but it does have good contacts in neo-con circles, so its report is at least worth considering.

    “Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and Chairman of the US Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph F. Dunford will never on any account admit that, in the execution of military collaboration with Russia in the Syrian conflict, they are not exactly carrying out the president’s precise instructions.

    But Washington sources report that Defense Secretary Carter maintains that he can’t act against a law enacted by Congress. He was referring to the law that prohibits all military-to-military relations with Russia as a result of Moscow’s annexation of the Crimea region of Ukraine.
    According to debkafile’s military sources, they are simply dragging their feet in ground operations. This is driving Vladimir Putin and his generals into fits of rage.”
    http://www.debka.com/article/25670/Rockets-on-Golan-Pentagon-flouts-Obama-no-truce

    Last week the Russian Ambassador to the UN, Vitaly Churkin also highlighted divisions within the US Administration:
    “We can probably assume that what we hear from Washington, when the president and state secretary say one thing, and the Pentagon says something different – maybe that was a factor.”
    http://tass.com/world/900535

    Nevertheless, in the last few days the Secretary of State John Kerry also joined in the Russia-bashing by blaming Russia for the attack on the aid convoy, without presenting any evidence or motive. Whether it’s the Pentagon or the State Department, or both, that’s behind the sabotaging of the deal, it looks like they’ve won.

    • September 26, 2016 at 11:41 am

      In regards to Kerry–he bends with the political winds. If you analyze his career he is the ultimate political hack. What we see in the Administration is a perpetual power struggle within the Deep State. This, and not popular revulsion for the status-quo, is the most important political dynamic of our time. The Syrian War illustrates this strange dynamic perfectly if you follow the details of policy.

    • Bart in Virginia
      September 26, 2016 at 12:25 pm

      And Ms Power went full hyperbole.

  6. F. G. Sanford
    September 25, 2016 at 3:30 pm

    Here’s how it works. The Commander in Chief calls a meeting of the Joint Chiefs, Sec Def and theater commanders. He announces, “I need to fire three stupid bastards. The list will come from the individuals assembled in this room. I’ll be back in twenty minutes. I expect you gentleman to have that list waiting.” When he gets back, if the list isn’t ready, he fires Sec Def, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and Commander, USAFCENT. This works well, because if they didn’t already pick themselves, their subordinates see them as pusillanimous pricks. They are psychologically castrated as legitimate leaders if they choose subordinates. It’s that simple.

  7. James lake
    September 25, 2016 at 3:58 pm

    It’s clear now that the US is supporting nations that fund directly Al nusra and Al quaeda. They have scuppered the ceasefire to please their allies in the region.
    The issue now is have the embedded U.S. forces in with the jihadis?

  8. H James
    September 25, 2016 at 5:16 pm

    Where was Obama when a Gen. under his command as commander in Chief tell him he will not do as order?

    I bet he is not were he should be, that being in the Oval Office handing in his resignation and preparing for a court marshal.

    Why of why does this president day in and day out allow himself to be ignored by people under his command?

    • September 26, 2016 at 11:42 am

      Because he is, like the generals, a subordinate of the Deep State. If you don’t understand that State you cannot understand U.S. politics or the resultant wars.

  9. ranney moss
    September 25, 2016 at 6:16 pm

    This article seems to say that the Pentagon has gone rogue and is no longer taking orders from the President. Worse, it implies that not only is our military not doing what our elected president wants, it is actively undermining the President’s foreign policy (like illegally bombing supposed allies and undermining a cease fire by arming dissidents). If any of this is remotely true, we have a serious situation in this country, and it begins to sound as though we have our own political coup going on right here.
    I hope Consortium will discuss this more. I’d be interested to know what some of their other contributors think of this. It sounds a lot like treason to me.

    • Jerad
      September 25, 2016 at 7:57 pm

      I doubt the Pentagon is actively refusing to follow Obama’s directives. Certain Consortium News writers have displayed a pattern of denial when it comes to Obama, and this article is another example of that.

      • ranney moss
        September 26, 2016 at 1:53 am

        Jerad, I wonder if you could explain what you mean by “certain Consortium news writers have displayed a pattern of denial when it comes to Obama.” I have no idea what that sentence means. It sounds a bit like word salad to me.

    • September 26, 2016 at 11:54 am

      Presidents have lost power as fast as they gained power through the agency of war. Wilson discovered this fact when he eliminated civil liberties and created the first modern propaganda agency (the Creel Committee) in the world. Since then war or “threats” automatically increased the power of the Executive. Certain power-elites grasped this and around 1947 prepared to get the Executive under control. The first major test was JFK because, unlike Eisenhower who understood (it seems) what had happened, he butted heads with this emergent oligarchy and lost his life in the effort. The rest is history. We call this structure that is superior to the President “the Deep State” a term that is largely forbidden to mention in progressive circles since it is regarded as “conspiracy theory” and, as everyone knows, the U.S. system doesn’t allow for conspiracies that seem to have dominated history in the past–this is another form of American Exceptionalism–it is precisely this idea that allow conspiracies to flourish in this country. Now this State is not a traditional hierarchy but an “emergent system” with a life of its own and it can act as if it is a centralized State and for many years it has acted in that manner. But for some reason, perhaps a disturbance in the Force, just at the time of its apex of power after 9/11, it has begun to experience internal divisions to a quite spectacular degree hence the utterly confused and bizarre wavering of the surface for-public-consumption-State. Without understanding this dynamic nothing makes any sense politically. The deep tragedy is that the “left” will not look at this and thus is always chasing chimeras and comforting myths. Nothing happens unless we seek to understand what is actually happening even if that Deep State is a sort of black box.

  10. Toby
    September 27, 2016 at 3:55 pm

    Of course they sabotaged the deal. Obama is a coward and a weakling. There is no accountability in his admin.

  11. Jean-David
    September 27, 2016 at 5:09 pm

    “Why of why does this president day in and day out allow himself to be ignored by people under his command?”

    Because he does not have the courage that Harry S Truman had. Or because the deep state is more powerful and it told him what would happen to him if he did anything effective.

    ?

  12. Brad Benson
    September 29, 2016 at 9:50 pm

    Ash Carter “serves at the pleasure”. Feckless Obama should fire him and the three star that was defying orders.

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