Air Strike on SAA Convoy Near al-Tanf:
Are Alternate Media Overplaying U.S. Role?
By Karl Pomeroy
Written for Quemado Institute
May 21, 2017
Alternate media platforms, including Moon of Alabama, Sputnik and Rt.com, seem to have gone hyperbolic in vilifying the United States over an alleged conspiracy agenda related to the U.S.-led Coalition air strike against the Syrian Army convoy near al-Tanf, Syria on May 18, 2017, which killed 6 Syrian Arab Army troops and injured three more.
Moon of Alabama (See: U.S. Attacks Syrian Government Forces – It Now Has To Make Its Choice, May 19, 2017) claims, for example, that more than one U.S. jet conducted the air strike: “Yesterday a small battalion size force (~2-300 men) of the regular Syrian army, Syrian National Defense Organization volunteers and Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF/PMU of the Kata’ib al-Imam Ali) marched on the road from the west towards al-Tanf. They were about 23 kilometers away from the border station when they were attack [sic] by U.S. aircraft coming in low from Jordan. The U.S. jets directly fired at the convoy, allegedly after earlier giving some ‘warning shots’.”
This report, by all indications, is false. Moon of Alabama based its allegations on an article at Russian news outlet Rt.com, which we consider a sensationalist tabloid not as reliable as Sputnik. Rt.com did not literally confirm that multiple American aircraft were involved. They did however post a photo at the top of the article displaying two U.S. F-15E jets, which, not coincidentally, implied U.S. aircraft involvement. The caption of the photo reads: “FILE PHOTO: A pair of U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagles © U.S. Air Force / Reuters“. Note that this a file photo, and is therefore not connected to the actual event. [Oddly, as I check today, May 21, the original photo shown here has been removed.]
This implied allusion to U.S. jets is a hallmark propaganda technique. The text of the article itself was nonspecific. However, a reference link was provided to Al-Masdar News. The report at this link states there was just one aircraft involved, without mention of the nationality. Thus Rt.com gave a false impression, which Moon of Alabama reiterated as fact.
Other reports at sites such as Sputnik emphasize this was a U.S. coalition strike, leaving the impression multiple American aircraft conducted the bombing of Assad’s convoy. But is this true? The facts are hard to find.
The most immediate reports from the scene are probably the most reliable. Propaganda narratives tend to develop over a period of days. This was the case for the downing of Malaysian Boeing 777 Flight MH17. The first at the scene, OSCE observer Michael Bociurkiw did not yet know the Western propaganda line when he blurted, minutes after the crash, that the Boeing had obviously been shot down by missile and machine gun fire from an SU-25 fighter jet. His story was later changed to fit the Western narrative.
By this rule of thumb, one of the first reports out by SouthFront on the Syria strike is the one that seems most believable. According to their May 18, 2017 report, the air strike was conducted by a single Jordanian aircraft: “A Jordanian warplane operating under the US-led coalition carried out airstrikes against a Syrian Arab Army (SAA) convoy advancing along the Al-Tanf-Damascus-Baghdad international road. The airstrikes targeted Syrian forces in Al-Shuhaimi area, 50 km from the town of Al-Tanf located at the Syrian-Iraqi border. The airstrikes destroyed two battle tanks, and damaged a Shilka vehicle, several pickups and trucks. Six SAA fighters lost their life and 3 were injured. According to some US defense official, cited by the Russian state-run news agency Sputink, the US coalition commander considered the Syrian army as a threat to coalition troops.”
Is it plausible that the Jordanians executed the air strike on Syria? According to Wikipedia, Jordanian air strikes are not uncommon: “On the morning of 16 April 2014, Jordanian air force fighter jets destroyed an undetermined number of vehicles trying to enter into Jordan by crossing the border from war-torn Syria during the Syrian Civil War. On 23 September 2014, Jordanian air force aircraft joined in US-led air strikes against terrorist targets in Syria that later became known as Operation Inherent Resolve…. On 5 February 2015, the RJAF resumed operations against Islamic State targets. The whole daily target list was handed over to 20 Jordanian F-16s…. In February 2015 the US resupplied Jordan with munitions to be used in airstrikes against ISIS, including JDAM precision bombs. In the summer of 2015 Israel transferred 16 Bell AH-1E/F Cobras to be used by RJAF in the ‘border patrol’ role, this is counter-insurgency role and in operations against Islamic State forces…. The Royal Jordanian Air Force consists of about 12,000 officers and non-commissioned officers…. It contains six major air bases in addition to sixteen air squadrons…”
So Jordanian involvement is certainly plausible. And if a Jordanian aircraft conducted the strike, this is already far less incriminating to the United States than Rt.com implies.
From what we can gather—and reliable sources are hard to find—the U.S. command, positioned just across the Jordan border from al-Tanf, felt threatened by the approach of the SAA convoy. Might this have been due to the presence of Hezbollah fighters among the convoy, a fact many reports fail to mention? How might a scenario of Hezbollah and U.S. forces meeting face to face play out?
According to Wikipedia, “Hezbollah’s military strength has grown so significantly that its paramilitary wing is considered more powerful than the Lebanese Army…. Hezbollah receives military training, weapons, and financial support from Iran, and political support from Syria. Hezbollah and Israel fought each other in the 2006 Lebanon War…. The Arab League, United States, France, the Gulf Cooperation Council, Australia, Canada, the Netherlands, and Israel have classified Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. The European Union, New Zealand and the United Kingdom have proscribed Hezbollah’s military wing as a terrorist organization, while making a distinction with Hezbollah’s political wing. Russia considers Hezbollah a legitimate sociopolitical organization.”
While we more or less agree with Russia, and hold that Hezbollah was justified in fighting Israel, the question is not who would be at fault in a potential American-Hezbollah clash, but whether U.S. forces, in their own best interests, would be apt to avoid such a clash. The answer is obviously yes.
With the SAA-Hezbollah convoy only some 20 to 30 kilometers away (depending on the source), the U.S. command apparently ordered Jordanian forces to stop their advance. The Jordanian aircraft gave a warning shot—fair enough in my mind—which unfortunately went unheeded. The air strike inevitably followed.
The U.S. motive was probably just this simple: perceived self-defense. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. Note also that this type of air strike is far from unusual in the Coalition anti-ISIS campaign. There is no indication the air strike signaled a change in Donald Trump’s policy, which includes respecting Syrian safe zones and avoiding interference in Russia’s anti-ISIS efforts.
To put the affair in perspective, compare this minor tactical strike, which for all intents and purposes may have been motivated by self-defence, to the Tomahawk missile strike of April 7, 2017 on Syria’s Shayrat air base, which Trump ordered maliciously, if not sadisticially, even while ravaging his “beautiful” chocolate cake at Mar-a-Lago with visiting Chinese President Xi Jinping. That criminal operation constituted brute revenge for an imaginary chemical weapons attack by Syria’s secular democratically elected President Bashar Assad—a chemical attack which was in fact a false flag, as is obvious to any intelligent observer. Although Trump warned Putin ahead of time, apparently to minimize casualties, the Tomahawk strike was conducted rather proudly at Trump’s behest by an American vessel without warrant, since no overt U.S. interests were at stake.
That egregious act shocked the world. Trump lost many of his most tenacious supporters, including Paul Craig Roberts, Alexander Mercouris and Adam Garrie of The Duran, as well as myself. Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov justifiably condemned that war crime in the most emphatic terms. Indeed, no terms were strong enough, and it was weeks before the alternate media could forgive President Trump. Many commentators never did. Fortunately, Russia took a pragmatic view, and resumed a friendly posture toward the U.S. President, as evidenced by Lavrov’s recent U.S. visit of May 10, in which he talked cooperatively with Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, garnering praise from the Russian side.
Why are Russia and the alternate media blowing this May 18 tactical strike out of all proportion? Do the Russians have an anti-American agenda regarding the incident? Such hostility is especially inappropriate now, when Trump needs support in his fight against impeachment over alleged collusion with Russia.
Both Lavrov, and Syria’s Astana envoy al-Jaafari, have exaggerated beyond the bounds of reason this not so unusual breach of Syria’s sovereignty According to Sputnik (May 19):
“US-led coalition’s attack on Syrian convoy on Thursday was an act of ‘government terrorism’, Bashar Jaafari, head of the Damascus delegation to the intra-Syria talks in Geneva, said Friday…. ‘We discussed the massacre that the US aggressor committed yesterday in our country. This subject was widely discussed,’ Jaafari said. ‘The important thing is that our political ambition is higher because we want to focus on fighting terrorism represented by armed groups and the state and government terrorism happening against our country. This includes the American aggression, French aggression and British aggression.'”
So Jaafari, at a time when he should be cultivating diplomacy at the Astana talks, is accusing the U.S. of terrorism for probably only defending its forces. This is an extreme categoric allegation.
Lavrov’s words were a little less strong. In another quote from Sputnik (May 19): “Lavrov slammed the US-led coalition’s decision to attack Syrian pro-government forces on Thursday. ‘Whatever the reason for the decisions that the US command made to carry out that strike was, the strike is illegitimate, it is illegal and a regular gross violation of the Syrian Arab Republic’s sovereignty,’ Lavrov told reporters.”
Whatever the reason? That seems an unfair dismissal. While Lavrov may be technically right that the strike was illegal and a violation of sovereignty, it does not warrant his strong condemnation. Lavrov is crying wolf, and devaluing the currency of his word—a sad development.
Meanwhile, alternate media analysts are having a field day, constructing elaborate conspiracy theories about alleged U.S. motives for the air strike, such as greed for oil and planned acquisition of Syrian territory. Syria expert Sophie Mangal, whom we have published on our Syria page (scroll to US-led Coalition Airstrike On Assad’s Forces in Syria Was Not Accidental) summarizes the current anti-U.S. propaganda line:
“So, what’s the true reason of such aggressive actions of the US-led international coalition this time? A number of Syrian military analysts believe that the U.S. Air Force main task was to hamper Syrian pro-government forces and to slow down their further advance towards Deir ez-Zor rather than to ‘protect’ U.S. ‘partners’. Their actions are motivated by the fact that the Syrian military command is ready for a large-scale military operation to liberate the city from ISIS. Damascus sees the complete liberation of Deir ez-Zor province from the blockade as the restoration of the control over the largest oil fields. This may significantly improve the economic situation in the country. This Syrian city is also a tasty little deal for the coalition forces. The overwhelming desire of the West to plunge the country into a state of constant chaos is the main reason for the planned seizure of oil rigs. Furthermore, the air strike was performed amid the ongoing Syrian talks in Geneva. A show of power like that may have targeted at making the talks even more difficult and troublesome as they are. Apparently, the US-led coalition’s regular strikes on the pro-government troops in Syria testify that Washington intends to continue its double-standard policy towards the Syrian conflict.” [Emphasis added.]
This seems elaborately manufactured scenario, indeed fake news, which may have applied in Obama’s day, but not under Trump—or at least we can’t blame him yet, considering the pressure he’s facing. In any case, such motives for the strike would likely be secondary at best.
And all the while, these articles conspicuously fail to mention the presence of Hezbollah fighers in the convoy. This is irresponsible journalism. While I certainly cannot tolerate anti-Russian propaganda, neither can I tolerate anti-American propaganda. And this is what we are seeing in spades. So why is America uniquely to blame? It isn’t. And irresponsible journalists should ponder their hypocrisy. Review for example the list of coalition members:
Contributing countries in the US-Led anti-ISIS coalition (Wikipedia)
Australia (Operation Okra)
Canada (Operation Impact In Syria)
France (Opération Chammal)
Germany (Operation Counter Daesh)
Netherlands (January 2016, start of air attacks in Syria on ISIL)
Jordan (Jordanian intervention in the Syrian Civil War)
Turkey (Turkish involvement in the Syrian Civil War)
United Arab Emirates
United Kingdom (Operation Shader Intervention in Syria)
United States (Leader)
Of course, none of my arguments excuse American involvement. The U.S. should be cooperating with Vladimir Putin and Bashar al-Assad categorically. In the present U.S. and European geopolitical climate, however, with the Rothschilds, Israel, the global corporatists and the military industrial complex running the show, such cooperation has so far proved impossible for Trump. He needs our patience more than ever. And Quemado Institute pledges patience.
The U.S. President, on the other hand, continues to mix wisdom with calamitous error, making assessment of his foreign policy all the more difficult. According to an article today at Newsmax:
“President Donald Trump says the U.S. seeks a ‘coalition of nations’ in the Middle East with the aim of ‘stamping out extremism.’ In his address to the Arab-Islamic American Summit in Riyadh, Trump is vowing to ‘strengthen America’s oldest friendships, and to seek new partners in pursuit of peace.’ Trump promised ‘that America will not seek to impose our way of life on others, but to outstretch our hands in the spirit cooperation and trust.'”
So far so good.
But then, in disturbing Trump fashion, bowing under pressure to Israel, he goes on to say, wrongly, “that Syrian President Bashar Assad has committed ‘unspeakable crimes’ bolstered by Iran.” Unspeakable perhaps because Assad’s crimes do not exist.
This is a pro-Israeli agenda in which Trump is 100% wrong.
Nevertheless, Eric Zuesse writes in his May 19 commentary A Progressive’s Argument that Trump Is Less Evil than Obama (Strategic Culture Foundation):
“[If Hillary] Clinton were now the U.S. President, then there would probably already be a conventional war between the U.S. and Russia in Syria…. By contrast: Trump has been bluster against Russia (because of the U.S. aristocracy’s campaign to portray him as being Putin’s stooge or worse), and also against the government of Syria, but behind the scenes has been pursuing a negotiated settlement that is acceptable both to the Russian government and to the Syrian government. Unlike Clinton-Obama, Trump is not aiming to conquer Russia.”
So let’s count our blessings and support Trump.