Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Self-Defense Is No Defense for US Acts of War in Syria

By Finian Cunningham - June 20, 2017 at 01:42PM

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The shooting down of a Syrian fighter jet by US forces this week comes on the back of several aggressive actions by American military on the ground. Taken together the US actions mark an alarming escalation of intervention in the Syrian war – to the point where the Americans can be said to be now openly at war against Syria.

The American military actions also come despite repeated warnings from Russia against such unilateral deployment of force. Following the shoot-down of the Syrian SU-22 fighter bomber this week, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov denounced the American violence as an act of "flagrant aggression" against a sovereign state. Some Russian lawmakers such as Duma foreign affairs chief Alexei Pushkov went further and condemned it as an act of war by the Americans.

Of course, Washington’s logic is riddled with absurdity. To claim that its forces are acting in self-defense overlooks the glaring reality that the US-led military coalition has no legal mandate whatsoever to be in Syria in the first place. Its forces are in breach of international law by operating on Syrian territory without the consent of the government in Damascus and without a mandate from the UN Security Council.

Another absurdity is the claim that the US forces are "protecting" militants whom they are supposedly training to "fight" the Islamic State terror group (ISIS). On at least three occasions over the past month, American military have carried out air strikes on Syrian government forces and their allies near a strategically important border crossing between Syria and Iraq. The Americans claim that the Syrian government forces were posing a threat to a military base at Al Tanf on the Syrian side of the border where they are training militants belonging to a group called Maghawir al Thawra.

The Pentagon claims that these militants are being trained to "fight and defeat" ISIS. The installation last week of long-range artillery batteries known as HIMARS at Al Tanf was justified as a self-defense measure. US Colonel Ryan Dillon said: "We have increased our military footprint and are prepared for any threat that is presented to us by the pro-regime forces."

As with the shooting down of the Syrian fighter jet this week, American forces are invoking "self-defense" as a legal rationale. But as Moscow has pointed out, the Americans have no legal right to be present on Syrian territory and then, secondly, to be unilaterally declaring "deconfliction zones" for what are de facto invasive forces.

A further nail to the American lie is exposed when the nature of the militant group is looked at more closely. Unverified video footage showing the US-backed militants at Al Tanf indicates that they are another brand of jihadist terrorism. The videos show Maghawir al Thawra militants repeatedly shouting the jihadist slogan "allu akbar." They are also equipped with the notorious top-of-the-range white Toyota land cruisers that other jihadist groups have obtained through funding by Saudi Arabia and other Gulf monarchies.

Syrian sources have confirmed to this author that the group displayed in the videos is indeed the Maghawir al Thawra and that they are unquestionably jihadist. Yet this is the same group that the US has openly declared to be training at its military base at Al Tanf to "fight and defeat ISIS," and which the US is supposedly "protecting" from advancing Syrian army units and their allies.

What’s more, it is reported that in addition to American forces at Al Tanf, there are British and other NATO troops, as well as those from two other Arab states. This amounts to a full-scale US-NATO intervention in the Syrian war – an intervention which seems to be clearly on the side of jihadist terror groups.

After the shooting down of the Syrian warplane by American forces this week, Moscow noted pointedly that Washington has openly taken sides with terror groups aiming to topple the sovereign government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. There can be no other pretense.

The bolstering of the US military footprint at the Al Tanf base near the Syrian-Iraqi border is another sign of brazen American siding with terror groups. As the videos above show, the notion that these militants are somehow "moderate rebels" who are combating ISIS does not bear scrutiny.

This US-led charade of supporting "moderate rebels" has been going on for nearly six years in Syria. The mercurial "Free Syrian Army" and the "Syrian Defense Forces" are part of this smoke and mirrors game designed to obscure the fact that the Americans and their NATO allies are using proxy militant groups dominated by jihadist terror networks, for the objective of regime change. The plethora of different names for these proxies – all whom are illegally armed groups – is just part of the cynical game to conceal the fact that Washington and its allies are waging a criminal war against a sovereign nation.

As independent investigative journalist Vanessa Beeley told this author: "The labelling by the US of any extremist faction fighting in Syria as a Free Syrian Army division is nothing more than a cynical marketing ploy to rebrand these group as ‘moderate.’"

Beeley says that the Maghawir al Thawra militants whom the US claim to be protecting in a supposed campaign to defeat ISIS is just another instance of Washington "rebranding terror groups as moderates."

Another giveaway to the real nature of this US-patronized group came from a Reuters report in which one of the Maghawir commanders was interviewed.

Maghawir al Thawra spokesman Abu al Atheer said the goal of the US forces was to take the eastern Syrian city of Deir Ezzor. That city is already under the control of the Syrian government forces and their allies. If the US and its militants were motivated to defeat ISIS, then why are they moving on Deir Ezzor?

The Maghawir commander also revealed his extremist ideological affiliations when he went on to talk about Iranian-backed forces allied with the Syrian government. "The battle is not over and we will not allow the Iranian Shi'ites to occupy our land. Our response to those who stand against us will be cruel," he told Reuters. Recall this is the same supposedly "moderate" group whom the US, British and Norwegian NATO troops are training at Al Tanf and for which the US has installed long-range artillery batteries in "an act of self-defense."

Events in Syria seem to be spiraling toward a bigger international war. This week Iran hit ISIS bases near Deir Ezzor with medium range ballistic missiles fired from inside Iranian territory. Tehran says the action was coordinated with the Syrian government. Meanwhile, the US is stepping up its direct assault on Syrian government forces.

Another telling development in the slide to wider war is that the US forces are moving towards blatantly defending jihadists like Maghawir al Thawra from Syrian, Russian and Iranian forces who are the only ones actually taking the battle to defeat jihadists. The US mask of hiding behind "moderate rebels" is slipping. Washington is now seen to be increasingly at war in Syria. It seems only a matter of time before US forces come into direct clash with Russian and Iranian military.

Reprinted with permission from Strategic Culture Foundation.

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