My article in this week’s Speccie took a look at important developments in the Syrian civil war: the US-led coalition’s decision to put regime change on the backburner, and its pivot toward cooperation with Russia in combating ISIS. The new partnership was supposed to take effect at the end of the ceasefire.
Yet that might be coming undone already.
The Australian reports:
Royal Australian Air Force jets were present during a botched bombing operation in which at least 60 Syrian government troops are believed to have been killed and 100 others wounded after they were mistaken for members of the Islamic State terror group…
Coalition intelligence had been tracking the position for some time, the statement said.
‘However, shortly after the bombing commenced, Russian officials advised the Combined Air Operations Centre that the targets may have been Syrian military personnel,’ the ADF said. ‘Bombing ceased immediately.’
The US was apologetic. Kind of. Quoth Ambassador Samantha Power:
‘We are investigating the incident. If we determine that we did indeed strike Syrian military personnel, that was not our intention and we, of course, regret the loss of life.’
Yet when Russia called an emergency session of the UN Security Council to deal with the violation of the ceasefire, Power lashed out:
‘Russia really needs to stop the cheap point scoring and the grandstanding and the stunts and focus on what matters, which is implementation of something we negotiated in good faith with them.’
In a way this is all understandable. It’s Power’s job to prosecute the American agenda, after all. But Washington can hardly be surprised that Russia is suspicious that the strikes were an accident. How the US and Australia could spend days tracking a group of militants and not notice they were Syrian government troops – dressed in Syrian government uniforms, carrying the Syrian government flag, riding in Syrian government vehicles – is difficult to believe.
Moscow is already floating some insane theories. It’s English-language mouthpiece, RT, quotes Gregory Copley AM as speculating:
‘Is it a coincidence that the [Islamic State] fighters were immediately ready to launch an offensive once the air strike was made on the Syrian forces?
‘This perhaps indicates that there might well have been a leak of some of the US targeting against the Syrian forces to [Islamic State] forces or other jihadist forces which were to enable them to take advantage of the so-called ‘mistaken’ strike by the US air force.’
No sensible person would seriously believe that the US is colluding with the United States. And that includes President Putin. But Russia’s over-reaction shows that the Coalition has a long road ahead if it’s going to regain Russia’s trust.
Easier said than done, of course. Russia’s government isn’t like ours. It doesn’t let anyone off with a slap on the wrist – least of all a power that it considered, until about last week, its arch-enemy in a proxy war.
The natural first step is for the Coalition to apologize. Not express its ‘regrets’, but to apologize. If this was a blunder, it was a gravely serious one, and the Russians have every right to be furious over such incompetence. If we want them to consider us an ally – even if just a temporary one – we have to act like it. No, we don’t need to grovel. But we have to own our mistake and try to compensate the Syrian government somehow, as an act of good faith. Otherwise Russia will have no good reason to believe we’re seriously remorseful about taking 160 of their puppet’s fighters off the battlefield.
In other words, we have to give them a good reason not to walk away from our burgeoning entente altogether. I don’t know if we’re humble enough to do so. But with the outcome of the War on Terror at stake, I sincerely hope we are.