Warning: This site contains images and graphic descriptions of extreme violence and/or its effects. It's not as bad as it could be, but is meant to be shocking. Readers should be 18+ or a mature 17 or so. There is also some foul language occasionally, and potential for general upsetting of comforting conventional wisdom. Please view with discretion.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Aleppo Convoy Attack: UN Report

Aleppo Convoy Attack
Assessing the UN Report 
Adam Larson aka Caustic Logic
January 8, 2017
last edits (re-org, cleanup, clarity) Jan. 11/12

The United Nations Headquarters (New York) Board of Inquiry into the Urm al-Kubra convoy attack completed its report. On December 21, their Department of Political Affairs (DPA) released a summary of it; the full report and detailed reasoning is internal. It basically supports the claim that the convoy was attacked by Russian and/or Syrian air forces. I did a quick review of the summary here at ACLOS, which I've finally expanded below.

Deciding on an Air Attack
The summary heralds in a by-line "UN-Syrian Arab Red Crescent aid convoy attacked from the air." They believe it was all from the air, apparently without any ground attack aspect. They claims they didn't leap to the conclusion, but based it on direct evidence, including "satellite and ground imagery, videos and eyewitness statements."

The board apparently didn't get to visit the site at all. Their investigators visited Syria December 5 to 9, visiting Damascus and West Aleppo. But they report they were not cleared to visit the site, as the government couldn't assure their safety, which the SARC convoy attack suggests is quite true. But that might have yielded little anyway, they state, as much damage had been repaired. (point 4)

As for what they did look at, the satellite views sound convincing, but it seems they actually aren't (see way below). The video evidence could be strong, but it's unspecified what they found so convincing in it. "Witnesses" speaking words in the midst of an information Jihad can be of little value. However, the board got "corroboration" from "Member States" (the most influential states are hostile to Syria and Russia and could easily lie), "open-source research" (if done right, like we do, this can be useful...) and "other witness interviews." Yes, unreliable words were corroborated by other unreliable words. Supposed eyewitnesses interviewed in Turkey (approved Jihadist proxies of the Erdogan regime) provided much information. (point 7).

They do claim to have looked at "over 370 photographs and videos" - apparently far more than we've found in the public record, and they list these separately from "open-source information." (possibility: the available visuals were double-listed here)

From all this, they decided "the SARC compound was subject to an attack from the air, using multiple types of munitions deployed from more than one aircraft and aircraft type. " Also, "The munitions used included non-precision unitary bombs and/or smaller blast-incendiary air-to-ground weapons, which could have been missiles, rockets or sub-munition bomblets." (point 27) This sounds somewhat vague.

Actual weapons remnants were not considered, due to chain of custody questions. This may, and should, include concerns the fragments presented were simply planted, as the most famous example "proving" Russian guilt apparently was (the OFAB-250 in the warehouse - see my analysis here).Therefore, to their credit, they don't blame anyone based on the debris rebels claim to have found, but they also avoid weighing in on the planting issue and its implications of rebel cover-up and thus likely rebel guilt.

And, as if they needed more reason, the board also claims they reached the conclusion by deduction: "the Board considered and rejected the possibilities that the incident was caused by direct fire or ground assault... or by ground-delivered improvised explosive devices (IEDs), or by indirect fire, ... (or) that it was a staged or hoax event." This left no option but the air attack they had those other reasons for. (point 28) Just how they did that and how valid their reasoning was remains unclear; it could be circular, elliptical, or other.

Narrowing the Blame to the Bad Guys
Well, it's not Based on Motive
From the evidence I've seen, this could be an air attack, at least in part. But considering the lack of clear proof either way, we should make a large note of the fact that motive does not point to Russia or Syria. As I explained here, it was al-Nusra linked rebels who had the most to gain.

A Russian-drafted plan was in the works, with the US promising to partner with Russia against Al-Nusra as well as ISIS, but it depended in part of not having this aid convoy attacked. Such linkage had Islamist activists declaring such aid "humiliating," and part of a US-Russia-UN plot. And when the convoy was attacked at the last moment, with someone tearing off these signs of conspiracy (see below), the US blamed Russia, cancelled the deal, and so left al-Nusra protected from any such expanded bombing (in Aleppo, that didn't save them from losing anyway - Russia and Syria did it on their own soon after this, to much protest from the West).

So Russia is accused of the attack that scuttled their own deal, with the deal and that question mark glossed over in most reports. Why did they do this? To stop some medical aid getting through, or just to be evil again, or what? It's unclear and doesn't seem to matter. But in fact the counter-motive for Damascus or Moscow are so strong, we should demand extra-good evidence for such an irrational crime. And this hasn't been provided yet.

The inverse also applies; rebels and their coalition protectors had so much to gain, they should be considered the prime suspects until the evidence rules them out. From the motive perspective, Al-Nusra allied terrorists would be the logical culprits. If an air attack aspect truly were proven to be part of the picture, we should suspect rebel-supporting coalition aircraft. They might well be unofficial, off-the-books, maybe even  Russian-made SU-24s flown by Ukrainians out of Turkey, if that's possible, or simply the versatile predator drone the Russians claim they observed.

But here's an oddity; the UN Headquarters summary at least does not address the issue of motive, giving the reader a very poor basis for deciding between various competing claims and conflicting evidence. Here's what the board did with that purchased wiggle-room:

...Because No One Alleges It?
First, they make due note that almost any aircraft, be it Syrian, Russian, or coalition, was technically capable of the air attack; only flightless local terrorists were off the hook. But having not considered motive, they found this rationale for deciding it was "highly unlikely" to be the coalition side:
38. The Board further noted that no party had alleged the involvement of International Coalition Forces aircraft and, as such, their involvement was highly unlikely.
That's the entire point 38, with no other reason given. Now, let's consider...

Russia's military has previously suggested a Predator drone run by the coalition was in the area at the time, while all of their own craft were elsewhere. Unlike the Americans, they even showed a partial radar track for it (right, and meaning unclear - it came from the north and looped around the site?). It's unclear if they retracted this, or what.

Among the materials the board considered is mentioned "air tracks shared with it by the government of the Syrian Arab Republic." (point 7). The summary doesn't show, describe, or discuss this track any further, but here we have it: Russia shows one. Syria does. But there's no mention of air tracks provided by the coalition side to support their claims. This is consistent with, but doesn't prove, coalition side guilt.

Furthermore, the board knows Russia and Syria both deny involvement, which implicitly blames the coalition. That might sound weak, but the reverse was decided in the same manner; ""We know it was an airstrike and not one from the coalition. We don’t know if it was Russia or the regime," the only others flying over Syria, a senior (US) official said." (Washington Post)

Did the coalition provide some proof of that, or is that implication still their basis for blame? If it's the latter, we learn that trick works one way - when the US and allies are leveling charges against Syria and/or Russia - and not the other way around, even when the others have radar data to back their claims. This seems consistent with how the UN usually handles such differences between member states.

More on Which Bad Guys
The board also notes the Syrian Air Force may not have been informed of the convoy's location, whereas they're sure everyone else (Russia, coalition, opp. forces) were made aware. (point 25) This leaves open the option that Damascus did it, even on accident. But many experts have insisted it had to be Russia, due to the "sophistication" of the strike, happening in the early evening dark, for one thing.

They heard very specific allegations that three Syrian helicopters, some unknown jets, and one Russian jet were all involved, and found this possible, but unlikely.
39. The Board stated that it had received reports that information existed to the effect that the SAAF was highly likely to have perpetrated the attack, and even that the attack was carried out by three Syrian Mi-17 model helicopters, followed by three unnamed fixed-wing aircraft, with a single Russian aircraft also suspected of being involved. However, the Board did not have access to raw data to support these assertions and, in their absence, it was unable to draw a definitive conclusion. Moreover, the Governments of both the Russian Federation and Syrian Arab Republic denied all allegations of their involvement in the incident.
40. The Board noted in this connection that there were technical issues pertaining to a hypothesis of the incident being a result of a joint Syrian Arab Air Force/Russian Federation strike. The Board had been informed that that the Russian Federation did not conduct joint strikes. A high degree of interoperability and co-ordination would also be required for two air forces to operate in the same airspace, targeting the same location.
Why they included this is unclear, but I've already seen one reader declare in comments the report found three Mi-17s, three Syrian jets and a Russian jet were responsible for the attack, and therefore it was super-proven (RT reader, 22 December).

So, anyway... like US officials in the immediate aftermath, but with a bit less certainty and more diplomatic wording, the investigators think it was Russia or Syria, not likely both, and they don't seem to really know or care just which. This seems more like an interest in getting someone more specific off the hook than an effort at truth, which would be consistent with the dubious reasoning they provide, and of course with coalition side guilt.

Terrorist Pirates who Also Blame Syria-Russia 
The board heard that the area (given as Urem Al-Kubra) was at the time of the attack "under the control of armed opposition groups, with Jaish al-Mujahideen being the predominant group in the area."  but they heard others, including Nour al-Din al-Zenki and Jabhat al-Nusra had a "presence in the area." (point 13) It's been reported that Al-Zenki - commanded by child-beheading scum and allied with al-Nusra - were the predominant force. That could be wrong, they may have slightly different ideas of the relevant area, there may be no one clear answer, and it matters little; criminal psychopathic terrorists ran the area.

The rebels of Jaish al-Mujiheddin (JaM) clearly ran the area just to the east, the passage to Urm al-Kubra from Aleppo, if not the immediate warehouse area. JaM "provided an armed escort to the convoy to its destination" starting from the moment they passed the first non-government checkpoint (point 19) until they arrived at the SARC compound,  at 13:45 as the board found. "[T]he armed escort provided by Jaish Al-Mujahideen then ended and responsibility for the security of the convoy passed to the local police, which had a station nearby."  (point 23).

That would be JaM's mortar truck seen by a Russian military drone in Khan al-Assal. It was driving out ahead of the stationary convoy, possibly to get positioned to fire on the trucks later on. The board mentions this truck, but saw no proven connection between that and the convoy attack. The board "could not find any material link with the incident." (point 41) There is and can be no proven link, but as far as I can see it hasn't really been ruled out either. The board claims to believe it was exclusively an airstrike, which would rule out a mortar's involvement. But perhaps that call wasn't really as strong as it's made to sound by the DPA in this public summary.

The board heard that JaM decided the trucks should move only five at a time, ostensibly to not block traffic (point 21). Then when the first sub-group was sent along - with or without an escort is unclear - something odd happened. As the board heard it, anyway, they were:
 ...met by masked armed men, who wanted to take some of the supplies on the convoy. A dispute then ensued between these men and the SARC Urem al-Kubra team. Following the dispute, three trucks were diverted by these armed men. One of these was fully offloaded, while the remaining two were partially offloaded. The three trucks were then allowed to proceed to the SARC compound in Urem al-Kubra. (point 21)
Just what they stole isn't explained. But clearly, Jaish al-Mujahideen did nothing to stop this piracy, with all its armed escorts and coordination with other terrorist groups. That is, if they weren't behind it, their allies were, and they wrote off on it. This piracy-related dispute adds to the rebel motive to kill those people and blame their enemies for it. JaM's post-incident press release makes no mention of it. And note there's no piracy incidents with pro-government elements to suggest they're to blame.

And here's a though: If these militants or allies (probably including local police) controlled the area, they could wait until the convoy and the aid workers were all gone, and pilfer the warehouse at their leisure, without creating a scene. Why the rush to grab stuff at first chance? One possible reason: the pirates, and presumably their allies, knew that convoy and its material would be destroyed shortly in a false-flag attack. They might all want to stay away from that scene, if possible, and run the show with mortars and artillery, to look a bit more like fighter jets. And any aid of value might get damaged.

How was this story reported to the UN investigators? By a survivor? (it seems possible there were none - see below) Or was this incident called in to headquarters, and that's why it was known? Could there have been a more serious, second confrontation the team never got to call in, before they and all their workers and drivers died?

The Jihadists in charge - thieving, perhaps murdering and lying - and their provided alleged witnesses and political backers, have their story of what happened. To the UN HQ investigators, who seem to have been looking for the same story, these Islamist claims are taken as credible evidence to decide it was some kind of bad guy air attack, with no motive and no troubling precedents like the JaM-approved pre-attack looting of the precious UN/SARC Aid.

Other Points
Death Toll:
Previously, it seemed about 31 people were affected, with at least 10-12 killed and about 20 injured but surviving, at least initially. It was never clear if anyone escaped both death and injury - that 30-32 might be everyone involved with the convoy that remained at the time. Later, credible reports said at least 20-21 wound up dying, and Jaish al-Mujiheddin, describing themselves as part of the "Free Syrian Army," declared that in the end perhaps everyone did: "12 humanitarian aid workers and 19 civilians, including (all?) the drivers of the aid convoy" eventually died, "for a total of 31 dead." They don't say if anyone at all lived. (see press release, ACLOS table)

If all inside witnesses died, except maybe one all-seeing "miracle survivor" to tell "the true story" ... this suggests local forces, not passing air forces, decided the death toll and wanted control of the narrative. What the UN report adds on the issue is of little help dispelling this possibility:
31.   At least ten individuals died, including five drivers who had been part of the convoy and the head of SARC Urem al-Kubra.  At least 22 individuals were injured, including a further five drivers.
"At least 22" surviving + "at least 10" killed = at least 32 total, when other sources put it at around 30-31 total killed and injured. Maybe they mean it was 32 total, and since 10+ died, then at most 22 survived.  This sounds like they didn't get a clear picture themselves, and decided to use the lowest agreed number of dead, given as at least, with as many as two thirds surviving or, as far as we can tell, no thirds.

Consider also:  "The United Nations sought to retrieve the bodies of the drivers who had been killed, Mr. Egeland said. But the rebels didn’t let it. And there was no Mr. Barakat to help." (NYT) So there were perhaps no independent autopsies. It might well be that all inside witnesses to the attack died and were buried away by JaM and allies. 

Damage Mapping

29. A total of eight possible major impact points within and near the compound were identified by the Board, with further multiple smaller impacts to the northwest.  The southwestern, southern and eastern walls of the compound were damaged and buildings collapsed.  Extensive damage was also done to a wall on the opposite side of Highway 60.
30. The Board found that 17 trucks from the convoy were involved in the incident.  Eight of these suffered significant fire damage, some being completely consumed.  A car, identified by witnesses as being used by the Head of SARC Urem al-Kubra, was also involved in the incident and was heavily damaged.
From open-source research with photos and videos (see ACLOS, scene analysis), we have: 5 impact areas clearly identified, perhaps 9 or more, in and adjascent to the warehouse, its parking lot, and around the highway to the south. There are 7-9 badly damaged trucks, of 13 trucks or trailers present, plus the car, and a pickup truck at least, not all clearly part of the convoy. First a graphic by me from video and photos, with the 5 clearest damage areas numbered (these are partially analyzed at the link above).

Satellite imagery shows more impacts mostly to the northwest that don't feature in videos and photos from the scene. Below are seven areas of apparent damage identified by ACLOS member Paveway IV on a TerraServer preview image, besides 9 in the central area.  Note: this was a tentative call, may suggest too many points of damage, apparently misses at least two known impacts that aren't obvious here.

The resolution isn't the best here, but we don't seem to see any large craters of the kind "expert" Lars Bromley suggested should appear:
"With our analysis we determined it was an air strike and I think multiple other sources have said that as well," Lars Bromley, research adviser at UNOSAT, told a news briefing.
"For air strikes, what you are usually looking out for is the size of the crater that is visible and the type of crater," he said. (Reuters)
The light dot where my #4 is in the highway (not indicated beneath, between the bottom red boxes) - this is the biggest and only crater I've seen outside the warehouse. It's maybe a meter wide, shallow, and was filled-in immediately with this lighter-colored earth. There might be other craters, aside from the one inside the warehous, but they probably aren't any bigger, or they'd be more obvious.

So ... we all agree mostly on the scene fairly well. Some trucks are unaccounted for, there's evidence for a number of violent blasts, but still no clear reason to support the illogical blaming of Russia and/or Syria. Yet, that blame keeps being supported, as if in a widespread effort to repeat it into being true.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments welcome. Stay civil and on or near-topic. If you're at all stumped about how to comment, please see this post.