America’s top military officer and the US Defense Secretary told congress that they blamed Russia for the Aleppo aid convoy attack, but admitted that they “had no facts.”
The Pentagon leaders also said that they supported the idea of grounding Russian and Syrian jets and allowing only US coalition planes over Syria, even though that would require war against both Syria and Russia.
Defense Secretary Ash Carter and General Joseph Dunford, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, faced the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday to report on the ongoing military operations and “national security challenges” faced by the US. They also asked the senators for more reliable funding, saying the uncertainty was hurting the defense industry.
“Not only our people – our defense industry partners, too, need stability and longer-term plans to be as efficient and cutting-edge as we need them to be,” Carter told the senators.
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The lawmakers were far less interested in the war against Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) than about the future of the Syrian government, Iran’s “malign influence,” and “aggression” by China and Russia – all ranked far ahead of terrorism on Carter and Dunford’s list of security challenges.
The Pentagon had “no intention” of sharing intelligence with Russia when it came to Syria, Dunford told the lawmakers unequivocally. Secretary Carter explained that the joint implementation councils envisioned by the ceasefire proposal negotiated in Geneva wouldn’t share intelligence, just coordinate efforts – but that they were a moot point anyway, since the ceasefire was effectively dead.
Both the lawmakers and the Pentagon chiefs blamed that development on Russia, focusing on the alleged airstrike against the humanitarian convoy in east Aleppo while the US-led airstrike against the Syrian Army fighting IS in Deir ez-Zor went unmentioned.
“I don’t have the facts,” Dunford said, when asked about the convoy attack by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut). “It was either the Russians or the regime,” he added.
“There is no doubt in my mind that the Russians are responsible,” whether directly or because they backed the government in Damascus, Dunford said, describing the attack as “an unacceptable atrocity.”
Carter explained Dunford’s logic in a response to Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina), saying that “the Russians are responsible for this strike whether they conducted it or not, because they took responsibility for the conduct of the Syrians by associating themselves with the Syrian regime.”
The latest proposal by Secretary of State John Kerry involves grounding only Syrian and Russian airplanes, Carter told Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-New Hampshire).
“There can be no question of grounding US aircraft” over Syria, he said, adding that US jets conduct their strikes “with exceptional precision… that no other country can match.”
Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Mississippi) asked about what it would take for the US to impose a no-fly zone over Syria, using the phrase “control the airspace.”
“Right now… for us to control all of the airspace in Syria would require us to go to war against Syria and Russia,” Dunford replied, drawing a rebuke from committee chairman John McCain (R-Arizona), who argued a no-fly zone was possible without war.