Here’s NightWatch‘s John McCreary on the Syrian aid-convoy incident:
Syria-UN: The UN suspended aid convoys in Syria after the air attacks against the aid convoy on the 19th. “As an immediate security measure, other convoy movements in Syria have been suspended for the time being, pending further assessment of the security situation,” a UN spokesman said.
US-Russia: US officials blamed Russia for the attacks. Two US officials said that two Russian Su-24 fighter bombers were in the skies above the aid convoy at the exact time it was struck late on Monday.
Russian Defense Ministry’s official spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov said the Russians studied video provided by Syrian opposition “activists.” They saw no evidence of craters or of damage patterns consistent with bombs delivered by or rockets fired from aircraft.
Konashenkov said the attack on the aid convoy occurred in the same area at the same time as an offensive by the al Nusra Front. The damage they observed was damage by ground ordnance that started fires. A later report said a rebel truck with a heavy weapon in its bed was responsible for the attack on the convoy.
Konashenkov said, “Neither Russian nor Syrian aviation has carried out any air strikes against a UN humanitarian convoy on the southwestern outskirts of Aleppo. Furthermore, since the convoy’s route lay through territories under militants’ control, the Russian center for reconciliation of opposing sides in Syria yesterday monitored it from drones.”
Konashenkov also said that at about 1340 Moscow time [1040 GMT] on Monday, 19 September, the whole of the humanitarian cargo had been safely delivered. After that the Russian center for reconciliation of opposing sides in Syria stopped monitoring the convoy.
“The Russian side did not monitor the convoy’s further movement. All information about the convoy’s whereabouts was known only to the militants controlling that area,” he said.
Comment: The exchange of accusations is a study in the uses of intelligence as evidence. The US accusations of Russian responsibility are based on circumstantial evidence: the proximity of the aircraft. Correlation of aircraft with the convoy location is not evidence the aircraft attacked, only that they were in the area.
The US case would have been helped by testing the evidence. Unasked questions include whether the Russian aircraft were positively identified; their altitude; whether they had ordnance loaded; whether they were heading towards the Russian air base at Hmeimim or heading away from the base; and at least a half dozen other evidentiary tests that could have strengthened or refuted the US accusation.
In presenting their case, the Russians said they studied ground video provided by activists, thereby inviting independent corroboration. They also described their analytical method — what they were looking for and what they saw — and their conclusions, which can be easily checked against the video.
They went beyond the attack to describe information available in their control center, which also can be checked independently. Statements that can be checked independently constitute admissions against Russia’s interest if it were culpable. Such open admissions establish a prima facie basis for probity and invite the accuser to do his homework and accept the invitation to check out the Russian evidence.
For us, the most interesting and important points of the denial defense are the way the Russians made a case for a totally different explanation for the damage. They not only denied the US accusations, they raised questions about the competence of US intelligence by implying that it missed the real cause of the damage – a ground action initiated by the al Nusra Front terrorists.
The US has not commented on the Russian evidence.
Following the killing of 62 Syrian soldiers by US air attacks on the 18th, the Russians are hammering the issue of incompetent US intelligence analysis. The Russians may be expected to attack every judgment based on inferences made by US intelligence to show the US cannot be trusted to distinguish battle damage by a ground attack from an air attack.
Concerning a resumption of the ceasefire, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that the truce could only resume if terrorists stopped attacking government forces. “The hope that the ceasefire in Syria will be reinstated is very little now.”
Comment: Peskov’s statement indicates that the Russians now back the position of the Syrian government that the ceasefire has ended.
See also Stephen Cohen’s latest commentary on our relations with Russia, here. Among other things, he asks: “Why is the war party so adamantly opposed to any cooperation with Russia anywhere in the world when it is so manifestly in US interests, as in Syria?”