How did al-Qaeda know in advance about the Syrian air strike?There is an anomaly among the evidence that the Syrian chemical weapons attack at Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib province on April 4, 2017 was a “false flag” operation, designed to provoke a US attack on Syria. The evidence is otherwise quite strong, as put forth by former Pentagon consultant and MIT professor Theodore Postol in his three part analysis of the declassified White House Report on the Syrian chemical weapons attack of April 4, 2017. Postol’s analysis has been widely cited as disproving the White House contention that the Syrian Air Force bombed the “rebel” controlled village with chemical weapons.
Indeed, Dr. Postol’s analysis pokes quite a few gaping holes in the White House Report, concluding that the crushed gas canister and the “crater” shown in open source videos and photographs from the site demonstrate that it could not have been delivered by air. Postol also concludes that the report is, in fact, fraudulent and was produced by the National Security Agency without the input or review of impartial intelligence professionals.
Nevertheless, Postol begs a couple of questions, the most compelling of which is how the “false flag” imposters on the ground would have known how to time their operation with the Syrian air strike that everyone admits actually took place (the Syrians and Russians alleging that only conventional weapons were used, and the Americans alleging the use of chemical weapons). In order to do this, they would have had to have advance knowledge of the attack. How would they have gotten this information?
A clue to this comes from the suspension of the Russian-American “deconfliction” agreement. Under a September, 2015, memorandum of understanding, information about all military flights by forces in the area would be shared in order to prevent dangerous and unintended confrontations. In this case, Russia informed its US counterparts of the intended Syrian strike twenty-four hours in advance.
That would be plenty of time to prepare a “false flag” operation of the type shown in the videos and photographs and described in the Postol analysis. But in that case, the information would have to have been conveyed by US sources to operatives on the ground in Idlib, which is headquarters for al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliates.
Russia seems to think that this is exactly what happened. Their unilateral suspension of the agreement has been widely interpreted as a reaction to the US attack on the al-Sha’yrat airstrip, but it may be more than that. Military actions are often calculated to appear to be a justifiable reaction to an earlier action from the other party. Thus, for example, the US chose to attack the Sha’yrat airstrip at least partly because that is where the aircraft that attacked Khan Sheikhoun had originated.
Similarly, Russia reacted to the US strike by authorizing increased anti-aircraft defenses in Syria and dispatching a frigate to its Mediterranean base in Tartus. These moves can be considered reactions to the fact that Russian anti-aircraft missile systems are known to be able to shoot down Tomahawk missiles of the type used in the US attack, and that the Tomahawks were fired from US vessels in the Mediterranean, off the coast of Syria.
But what about the suspension of the deconfliction agreement? How is that a specific response to the something done by the US? Perhaps Russia suspects that the information that they gave to the US in compliance with the agreement was leaked. Does Russia think that the US has al-Qaeda operatives at the highest and most secure levels of the U.S. government? That is a bit far-fetched, especially when there is a simpler and more plausible explanation.
The explanation is that al-Qaeda does not need operatives to get such information. The US has been strategically in bed with al-Qaeda, ISIS and their permutations for quite some time. US policy makers do not speak with a unified voice on this matter, but many – especially those of the neoconservative school of strategic policy – have cultivated the use of violent groups like al-Qaeda and ISIS as alternatives or supplements to the use of US forces on the ground.
Furthermore, many of the same policy makers were the ones who led the US into the disastrous wars in Iraq and Libya, and are committed to do the same in Syria. False flag operations and faulty intelligence are part of their stable, as they showed with their tall tales of WMD and Viagra-fueled black mercenaries. They have been influential in the US government since at least the Reagan administration, and groomed Hillary Clinton for the White House for decades.
Since the loss of their horse in the last presidential election, these policy makers have been trying to turn the Trump government against its campaign rhetoric of leaving Syria and letting Russia and the Syrian government put an end to ISIS and al-Qaeda in Syria. That is not part of their playbook. Their plan therefore uses false flag operations, false intelligence and working with terrorists, in order to control US foreign and military policy through subterfuge when they cannot control it directly.
But how can they do this? What sorts of connections make it possible for them to undermine the White House, State Department and intelligence services to achieve their ends? We don’t have to look far for examples.
An obvious one is the US attack on the Syrian army at Deir ez-Zour on September 17, 2016, killing scores of Syrian soldiers and wounding many more. Critically, this happened only five days into a trial ceasefire and only two days before the trial period was to end and the ceasefire to become permanent. Needless to say, this had the effect of scuttling the ceasefire, but interestingly, ISIS troops were apparently standing by to overrun Syrian army positions almost immediately after the US aircraft completed their bombing mission (and how would they have known when it was completed?).
US military officials said it was unintentional, but an excellent investigative report by Gareth Porter demonstrates that, in fact, this was a purposeful choice by high ranking US military officers to prevent the ceasefire from forcing them to cooperate with Russian counterparts on target coordination in Syria. These officers had allies in the administration, including Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, who effectively undermined the policies of President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry and their Russian counterparts, President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. As Kerry admitted to the Boston Globe, “…we had people in our government who were bitterly opposed to [the agreement].”
There is plenty of circumstantial evidence of US collusion with al-Qaeda, as well. Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy advisor Jake Sullivan even went so far as to admit that “AQ [al-Qaeda] is on our side in Syria.” Is it coincidence that most of the weapons delivered to “moderate rebels”, including TOW anti-tank guided missiles that turned the tide against the Syrian army in 2014-15 were almost immediately transferred or put under the control of al-Qaeda? Or that when US forces evacuated Falujah and other territories conquered by ISIS in the same period, it left behind huge quantities of arms, vehicles and other resources, contrary to standard military policy of destroying whatever could be of use to the enemy? Or that, more recently, when retaking Mosul, US forces left the way to Syria open for ISIS to flee to Syria and use its forces to retake Tadmur (Palmyra) from the Syrian army?
Typically, the US has created intermediaries such as the quasi-mythical “moderate rebels” between them and the most extreme terrorist organizations. However, the mythical quality of these emissaries is sometimes exposed, as when an audio recording was released of a conversation between John Kerry and twenty representatives from four “moderate” Syrian organizations in September, 2016, at the United Nations.
In the recording, a Syrian woman, Marcell Shehwaro, threatens Kerry that if the US doesn’t do more to help, they will join forces with al-Nusra (the al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria). Another man (unidentified) repeats the threat later in the recording. Shehwaro later argues that more support should go to al-Nusra; i.e., that “we are not arming the right people” and “there is not enough political and arms support to those who consider [al-Nusra] moderate. I wish we had these friends.”
Such admissions show that the veneer of “moderation” is very thin in these groups. They are, in fact, little more than a public relations front for al-Qaeda and ISIS, providing whatever the west needs – and especially news feeds – needed to keep support flowing.
The four groups represented at the meeting clearly have access to the highest levels of the US government and vice versa. It would be a simple matter for a US government official in the Pentagon, NSA or other agency to pass the information about Syrian aircraft movements to someone like White Helmets leader Raed Saleh, who was present at the Kerry meeting, with assurance that it would reach the al-Nusra leadership in Idlib. In effect, Kerry (and other government officials) are speaking directly to al-Qaeda.
Obama and Kerry learned their lesson. They understood the degree to which their decisions could be undermined, so to preserve their limited power, they sometimes went along with the powers that they could not control, and sometimes partly thwarted those powers. Obama was gifted with a Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, who famously told him that the alleged 2013 Syrian army use of chemical weapons was “not a slam dunk,” which led the President to back off his plan to attack Syria.
Does Trump have such people? His replacement of noninterventionist Michael Flynn with war hawk H.R. McMaster is an ominous sign that neoconservative influence is reasserting itself. And the success of the Khan Sheikhoun false flag chemical weapons attack in inciting a US attack on Syria is a clear encouragement for more such false flag operations.