So last week, following reports that someone had dropped what social media claimed was “white phosphorous” on civilians in Saraqeb just days after the now infamous chemical attack on Idlib, I said the following:
Expect plenty of Dave Chappelle-ish ‘yellow cake’ and ‘aluminum tubes’” chatter this week.
That was a reference to a famous Chappelle skit called “Black Bush” in which the comedian lampooned press conferences about WMDs in Iraq.
That wasn’t an attempt to downplay the chemical attacks. Rather, the point was the geopolitical news cycle would invariably be dominated by competing narratives about who has chemical weapons, what chemical weapons those “who”s actually have, and “who” those “who”s are using those chemicals on.
Well, fast forward one week and that’s exactly what we’ve seen. The back-and-forth hit an absurd nadir on Wednesday/Thursday following Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s meeting with Vladimir Putin in Moscow.
Last night, reports began to circulate that the US has intercepts that, according to a “senior US military official” amount to communications that “feature” (to quote CNN) Syrian military and chemical experts talking about preparations for the sarin attack in Idlib.
The same official noted – somewhat disconcertingly – that due to the sheer volume of communications intercepts it wasn’t feasible to sort through them all in a timely enough fashion to prevent the attack. So this was, again according to CNN, “part of an immediate review of all intelligence in the hours after the attack.”
Meanwhile, AFP decided to go straight to the source. Or, I guess it would be “straight to the (non)source” if you believe Bashar al-Assad himself, who said in the exclusive interview that the allegations against his regime are “definitely, 100 percent [a] fabrication.”
“Our impression is that the West, mainly the United States, is hand-in-glove with the terrorists,” he went on to claim, adding that “they fabricated the whole story in order to have a pretext for the attack.”
Now again (and we’ve said this a lot over the past seven days), the West is indeed “hand-in-glove with the terrorists” where “hand-in-glove” means Washington has for years supported Sunni groups (some of which have known ties to extremists) battling to oust the regime in Damascus.
That of course doesn’t translate to: “Washington deliberately gassed children to give the Pentagon an excuse to bomb Syria.”
That said, this entire thing is complicated by the fact (and this sounds bad, but it’s unavoidable in terms of mentioning it) that it would indeed be convenient for Donald Trump given the investigation into his campaign’s ties to the Kremlin, if Assad up and poisoned some folks. Because then the White House could launch an airstrike and claim that military intervention against a Russian client state “proves” Trump isn’t in league with the Kremlin.
But that would in turn suggest that Russia was itself complicit in the chemical attack, and not because they were helping Assad commit war crimes, but rather because they wanted to help Trump deflect from “Kremlin-gate.” So maybe Assad is being framed by his own ally in Moscow.
The entire thing is a complete clusterfuck.
Well, bright and early Thursday morning (so, just hours after CNN reported on the intercepts mentioned above), Sputnik (that bastion of credible reporting that now wants White House press credentials) said the US-led coalition hit an ISIS chemical weapons depot in Deir ez-Zor and accidentally killed dozens of civilians in the process.
“This confirms that Daesh and al-Nusra terrorists possess chemical weapons and are capable of using, obtaining and transporting it,” the Syrian army said.
Ok, but it’s not clear who said they didn’t. That is, the argument was never “you must have gassed those people last week because ISIS and al-Nusra (which isn’t al-Nusra anymore, now they’re “Fateh al-Sham Front”) have no chemical weapons.” Rather, it was: “you must have gassed those people last week because we heard you say you were going to gas those people last week.” See how that works?
Well anyway, now it turns out that apparently the coalition strike in question actually killed 18 opposition fighters that were, ostensibly anyway, allies of the US.
“Coalition forces expressed condolences,” Bloomberg notes, adding that despite being bombed by the same air support they called in, “Syrian Democratic Forces remain committed to fighting ISIS.”
Here’s more from NY Times:
An airstrike by the American-led coalition fighting the Islamic State killed 18 Syrian fighters allied with the United States, the military said on Thursday.
The strike, on Tuesday in Tabqah, Syria, was the third time in a month that American-led airstrikes may have killed civilians or allies, and it comes even as the Pentagon is investigating two previous airstrikes that killed or wounded scores of civilians in a mosque complex in Syria and in a building in the west of Mosul, Iraq.
Tuesday’s strike was requested by coalition allies who were on the ground near Tabqah, the United States Central Command, which oversees combat operations in the Middle East, said in a statement. The fighters had called in the airstrikes and “identified the target location as an ISIS fighting position,” it said, using another name for the Islamic State.
The Central Command statement said that the target location turned out to be a “fighting position” for the Syrian Democratic Forces, who have been fighting the Islamic State alongside the United States.
As you can see, this is a “fluid” situation, to say the least.
So whatever you read and whatever you choose to believe, just know that no one really knows what the hell is going on here – not even the people who are fighting the war.
Which leads me to ask just one question…