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Tuesday, September 20

JCS Chairman: Syria ceasefire not derailed

General Dunford is grandly fluffing off that all hell broke loose again in Syria -- the bombing of Syrian troops; the bombing (or mortar shelling) of an aid convoy; and Syria's government saying to heck with this crazy ceasefire. [smiling] As I mentioned in an earlier post, my view is that President Obama is VERY determined to get that Russian-U.S. joint bombing campaign in Syria up to speed. 

Note the time this USA TODAY report was filed. Heh. Take that, Washington Post and New York Times:  

Top U.S. military official: Syria cease-fire not derailed
By Jim Michaels
September 19, 2016 - 11:47 PM EDT

ABOARD A MILITARY AIRCRAFT — An alleged U.S.-led coalition airstrike on Syrian soldiers has not derailed a cease-fire agreement between Russia and the United States to halt fighting in Syria, the top U.S. military officer said Monday.

“There’s been a lot of unhelpful rhetoric over the last couple days,” said Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “It hasn’t yet … derailed the process we're involved in with the Russians to seek a verifiable cessation of hostilities.”

Still, the future of the cease-fire agreement appeared to be in jeopardy Monday, as a United Nations aid convoy was hit while trying to deliver aid to civilians trapped in Syria's civil war, and the Syrian military said it was pulling out of the truce because of rebel attacks.

The State Department said it was "outraged" by reports that a humanitarian aid convoy was bombed near the Syrian city of Aleppo, but is prepared to extend the cease-fire if Russia pressures the Syrian government to abide by terms of the truce and ends a pattern of attacking aid convoys.

The State Department said violence in the 5-year-old civil war had been reduced but only a small amount of aid has made it into the country since Sept. 12.

The Pentagon acknowledged that it halted an airstrike by coalition planes Saturday after Russia said the planes hit Syrian government forces, killing 62.

Dunford cautioned about drawing any conclusions about the allegations until the Pentagon conducts its own investigation to determine what happened.

“Before we start going down a path of what went wrong let’s do an investigation and actually ensure that something did go wrong,” said Dunford, who was returning home from a trip to Europe. U.S. Central Command, the headquarters that oversees military operations in the Middle East, is conducting an investigation into Saturday's airstrike.

The Pentagon previously said pilots believed they were striking Islamic State militants, who had operated in the area, and would not intentionally strike Syrian military forces.

The U.S.-led coalition has a rigorous process for approving airstrikes, involving extensive surveillance to confirm what is being targeted and to ensure civilians are not in the area. Targets have to be approved by a one-star general or above.

Dunford said the coalition has conducted thousands of strikes in the past two years with minimal loss of civilian life and without striking Russian or Syrian forces. [Pundita note:  He would get an argument from Syria's military. See this December 2015 report from CBS, U.S. rejects Syrian claim state forces were targeted]

Under the ceasefire agreement, the United States and Russia would begin exploring military cooperation in Syria if violence is reduced and aid convoys are able to get to Aleppo and other besieged areas within a week after the cease-fire began. Monday marked the end of the first week for the truce.

The cease-fire, which does not apply to al-Qaeda linked militants or the Islamic State, is intended to halt fighting between the forces of Syrian President Bashar Assad and an array of rebels seeking to overthrow him. That would allow U.S. and Russian military efforts to be directed at the two militant groups.

The Pentagon has not detailed what form military cooperation with Russia would take if a cessation of hostilities lasts.

But any military cooperation between the U.S. and Russia is risky. Russia’s military uses “dumb,” or unguided, bombs in Syria and humanitarian groups have accused it of indiscriminate attacks on civilian targets.

“Our job is to develop a construct within which we do mitigate the risk of being involved in any violation of the law of armed conflict or any unnecessary loss of civilian life,” Dunford said.



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