Per Reuters, the US believes that two Russian aircraft carried out the alleged airstrikes that allegedly destroyed a Syrian aid convoy yesterday. At the same time, also per Reuters, the UN isn’t even sure they were airstrikes:
The U.N., Red Cross and United States had all described it as an air strike, implicitly pinning the blame on Russian or Syrian aircraft that fly in the area for breaking the ceasefire with a strike on a humanitarian target.
But Russia, which denied its aircraft or those of its Syrian government allies were involved, said on Tuesday it believed the convoy was not struck from the air at all but had caught fire because of some incident on the ground.
The Syrian Red Crescent said the head of one of its local offices and “around 20 civilians” had been killed, although other death tolls differed.
After the Russian explanation, the U.N. put out a revised version of an earlier statement, removing wording on “air strikes” and replacing it with references to unspecified “attacks”.
U.N. humanitarian spokesman Jens Laerke said the references to air strikes in the original statement, attributed to the top U.N. humanitarian officials in the region and in Syria, were probably the result of a drafting error.
“We are not in a position to determine whether these were in fact air strikes. We are in a position to say that the convoy was attacked,” he said.
That’s…quite a drafting error. For fuck’s sake.
If this wasn’t an airstrike, then it’s not necessarily the Syrian government and/or Russia who were behind it. In fact, it’s not even clear any more that the convoy was struck at all–I know the UN is still insisting it was attacked, but frankly their credibility has taken a bit of a hit on this story. At this point I don’t think you can dismiss the possibility that the convoy was destroyed in some kind of accident.
Now, this is not to say that it definitely wasn’t an airstrike. Buzzfeed did a piece on the convoy this morning that looks a little problematic in light of the UN walking back the airstrike claim, but it did include one alleged eyewitness report:
Hussein Badawi, a rescue worker who was on the scene, told BuzzFeed News that planes had circled the area before a series of airstrikes was launched. The attacks included barrel bombs, he said, crude explosive devices that are deployed by the Syrian military. “We pulled four wounded people from the rubble, and [I saw] more than 12 people dead,” said Badawi, who is the head of the Syrian Civil Defense, the rescue workers known as the White Helmets, in the area. “And they destroyed the humanitarian supplies that everyone knows were meant to help civilians.”
Barrel bombs would strongly suggest that it was a Syrian strike, but that detail then doesn’t fit with the US claim that it was Russian jets that carried out the strike. The Russian air force typically doesn’t use barrel bombs, and you drop barrel bombs from helicopters or maybe slow-moving airplanes; I’m not an expert, but I’ve never heard of barrel bombs being dropped from a jet and have a hard time conceiving how that would be an effective way to use that type of weapon. So even if Badawi can be trusted, his report only raises more questions about what actually happened.