Sec. Carter: Russians Responsible for Airstrikes on Aleppo Aid Convoy
A handout picture made available on the website of Syrian Red Crescent showing an aid convoy of 31 trucks preparing to set off to deliver aid to the western rural side of Aleppo, Syria on September 19, 2016.SYRIAN RED CRESENT / HANDOUT / EPA
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The Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs told members of Congress on Thursday that the Russians are responsible for bombing the aid convoy en route to Aleppo earlier this week.
The "Russians are responsible for this strike whether they conducted it or not because they associated themselves with the Syrian regime," Defense Secretary Ash Carter told members of the Senate Armed Services committee during a hearing on Thursday.
General Joe Dunford said there were two Russian aircraft in the area at the time and there were also regime aircraft, and despite the fact he does not know who actually dropped the bombs, "it is the Russians who are responsible."
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"There is no doubt in my mind that the Russians are responsible," he said adding, "we just don't know whose aircraft dropped the bombs."
Dunford called the attack "an unacceptable atrocity."
The Defense leaders' comments are the latest salvo in a round of blame-laying following the deadly attacks. On Tuesday the United Nations suspended all aid convoys in Syria after more than 20 people were killed in an airstrike which hit aid trucks. The Red Cross called the assault an "attack on humanity."
Three defense officials told NBC News the Russian aircraft were Su-24s. However, Dunford made no mention of that during his testimony on Thursday.
White House deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes on Tuesday said the administration holds Russia responsible. The Russian Defense Ministry rejected the assertion and says they weren't behind the attacks on the convoy.
"Russian warplanes did not plan and did not deliver any airstrikes in the area of Urum al-Kubra," a spokesman told NBC News via email, referring to the town near Aleppo where the convoy was hit. "They were not in the area at all."
Lt. Gen. Igor Konashenkov then claimed a U.S. Predator drone appeared in the area minutes before the incident — an assertion U.S. defense officials flatly denied.
"Unlike the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the U.S. Armed Forces, we do have the 'facts', that is, data of objective control of the aerial situation in Aleppo on Sept. 19," Konashenkov said in a statement. "And these facts unequivocally confirm the presence of an American unmanned fighting air vehicle Predator, launched from the Incirlik air base, in the area of the convoy's passing by Urum al-Kubra."
On Wednesday, Secretary of State Kerry argued for salvaging a cease-fire deal brokered by the U.S. and Russia in spite of a string of violations.
During earlier questioning Dunford also said that he does not believe it is a good idea to share intelligence with the Russians and that the "US military role will not include intelligence sharing with the Russians."
Courtney Kube is a correspondent covering national security and the military for the NBC News Investigative Unit.
Alexey Eremenko is a producer in NBC News’ Moscow bureau. He previously worked at Russia's sole English-language daily The Moscow Times and on the English desk of the RIA Novosti newswire. His main beats included politics, space and environment, and he has reported from Afghanistan, Mali, Iran and across Russia.