War /

A surgical raid, one of those that must be perfect, able to leave no trace. This was the order received by the pilots of the two F-15s that took to the air over Syria yesterday to bomb not a Jihadi position, not a den of terrorists and not even a militia linked to the enemy but a former base of the international coalition: the former Lafarge cement factory in Jalabiya.

The pilots carried out their orders (perhaps Americans, as reported by The Aviationist). Last night, the spokesman of Inherent Resolve, Colonel Myles B. Caggins, posted a tweet pubblicato that leaves no doubt: “On Oct. 16, after all #Coalition personnel and essential tactical equipment departed, two Coalition F-15Es successfully conducted a pre-planned precision airstrike at the Lafarge Cement Factory to destroy an ammunition cache and reduce the facility’s military usefulness”. A threadbare, almost anonymous statement but it encapsulates one of the darker aspects of this withdrawal by the United States and, above all, the mysterious story hidden in the complex maze of northern Syria. Because the base is not only a former cement factory but the facility that for years hosted French special forces and secret intelligence services. The same France that now also wants to pull out along with the United States as it no longer has the logistical support of the Americans.

The problem is that every withdrawal also leaves behind secrets. The Pentagon has made this plain in the last few hours given that there is a risk that the Russians who take control of some of the bases that belonged to the USA will gain knowledge of even the slightest secrets left behind by mistake by the secret services. And this fear, very probably, is also in the minds of various French secret services officers at the base which, even today, is one of the darker aspects of the already complex French mission in Syria.

As this newspaper has stated, the former cement factory is one of the issues to be resolved in complex relations between the French secret services and the forces of the international coalition. Numerous enquiries have identified several disconcerting links between Isis cells and the Lafarge managers who, according to what was revealed by the newspapers and also confirmed by the French Public Prosecution Service, paid bribes to some terrorist groups in order to continue to work in the Jalabiya facility. The journalists of Le Monde even found a pass given by the Isis cells to the lorry drivers who transported cement from the facility in order to prevent the militias from stopping the transport. As Il Fatto Quotidiano reports, the message contained in the pass leaves no room for any sort of doubt: “The fighting brothers are asked to let this vehicle which transports Lafarge cement under an agreement that we entered into with the factory to pass through the checkpoints”. This document nailed the entire group (which then became Swiss following the 2015 merger with Holcim), so much so that the French Public Prosecution Service wanted to look into the matter.

French governments have always shown a certain degree of embarrassment when giving an explanation. The investigation, moreover, is a real thorn in the side of Emmanuel Macron and his predecessor, François Hollande, who for many years carried on operating in Syria without shedding any light on this mystery which could also mean that Paris saw (and perhaps tolerated) transfers of money from the French managers to the Islamic State near Aleppo. The former French ambassador in Syria, Eric Chevallier, continued to reiterate for many years that he did not have any meetings with the Lafarge managers. His testimony is quite different from that of Christian Herrault, at the time a Lafarge executive, which revealed that every six months representatives paid a visit to representatives of the Qaui d’Orsay, the seat of the French foreign ministry in Paris. And for a long time just one instruction came from Paris: stay and operate in Syria.

Regardless of whether these meetings took place or not, what is certain is that there was a payment (there has been talk of a bribe of Euro 123 million). As it is likewise true that French special forces took possession of the former cement factory and transformed it into the base for France’s security services in north eastern Syria. The DGSE obviously must have been aware what the cement factory was. And just as the USA bombed the American base in Kobani before pro-Turkish forces (or the Russians) arrived in the area, so too did the F-15s bomb the Jalabiya base. A raid that can reveal many secrets about Macron.

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