Syria: Questions of Life and Death Remain Unanswered

In recent weeks I continued to try to get some answers related to an attack on the Syrian-Turkish border that led to the deployment of Patriot missile systems to Turkey. Here’s the report of my odyssey involving the US Pentagon, the General Staff of the Turkish Army, and the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe in Belgium.

By Lars Schall
Posted originally on 14 June 2013 at War is a Crime here.
At the end of the article “False flag conspiracy of Assad opponents?,“ which I’ve published together with Middle East expert Prof Guenter Meyer from the University of Mainz on May 11, 2013 about alleged false-flag activities undertaken by the opponents of the Syrian government (see here), I mentioned an e-mail request that I sent to the Headquarter of NATO in Brussels. I had a very specific problem with respect to a report in the semi-official Austrian military magazine „Der Soldat“ („The Soldier“), which suggested that the mortar grenade attack that has been conducted on the Syrien-Turkish border in October 2012 was a staged event. Literary, the journal wrote in its Issue No. 1/2013, January 18, 2013:
“Turkey: The mortar grenade from Syria, that killed five Turks, came clearly from NATO stocks. It seems as if NATO member Turkey supported the Syrian rebels with arms. However, these supplies would have needed to be coordinated with other NATO countries.“
NATO HQ had told me with regards to this report that “(f)orensic and investigative questions relating to the 3 October incident are for the Turkish authorities to address. NATO as an organisation never conducted an investigation into this incident.“ On April 17 and May 7, I sent therefore a request to the General Staff of the Turkish Armed Forces both in Turkish and English in order to ask for a comment on this story in “Der Soldat.” However, in both cases I received no response whatsoever. Thus, I wrote NATO HQ about my problem by stating, “I think you are in a position in which it would be very easy and simple to give me a helping hand, so that I could get finally an official and clarifying response from Ankara.” NATO official Matthias Eichenlaub wrote back that he would “contact my Turkish colleagues (…) to see whether they can recommend an email address.” A few days later he wrote again: “Dear Mr Schall. I have been advised by my Turkish colleagues that you can send your query to the following address: I hope this helps.”
On the same day I wrote my request to the e-mail address above. Yet, until today I received once more no response from
In the meantime, I also wrote to the United States Department of Defense / Pentagon – namely to Jenny Davis, who is a Special Assistant at the Office of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, United States Department of Defense, and to Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesperson, who is Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs. On May 15 I send them this media request:
Dear Ms. Davis, dear Mr. Whitman,
my name is Lars Schall, I am a freelance journalist from Germany. I copy this e-mail to Pepe Escobar, geopolitical analyst for Asia Times Online.
The Austrian military journal “Der Soldat”, Issue No. 1/2013, January 18, 2013 reported that the mortar grenade that was fired from Syrian territory at the end of 2012 and killed five Turkish citizens came clearly from NATO stocks. Due to the fact that not least this incident lead to the deployment of Patriot air defense systems from Germany, the Netherlands, and the United States, the report in the semi-official journal is of particular importance to me. The legal basis for the German participation in the deployment to Turkey was Article 51 of the UN Charter – the right to individual and collective self-defense -, as well as the decision of the NATO Council in accordance with Article 4 of the North Atlantic Treaty – to be able to excercise this right in the event of an attack from the Syrian side.
As a German journalist, I am interested to learn the following as a matter of public interest:
How does the Pentagon comment on this report in “Der Soldat“?
“Der Soldat”, Issue No. 1/2013, January 18, 2013:
“Turkey: The mortar grenade from Syria, that killed five Turks, came clearly from NATO stocks. It seems as if NATO member Turkey supported the Syrian rebels with arms. However, these supplies would have needed to be coordinated with other NATO countries.“
“Der Soldat”, Ausgabe Nr. 1/2013, 18. Januar 2013:
“Türkei: Jene Werfergranate aus Syrien, die fünf Türken tötete, stammt eindeutig aus NATO-Beständen. Es scheint so, als hätte das NATO-Mitglied Türkei die syrischen Aufständischen mit Waffenlieferungen unterstützt. Allerdings müssten diese Lieferungen mit anderen NATO-Staaten abgestimmt sein.“
Kind regards,
Lars Schall.
On May 16, I received an e-mail message written by Eileen M. Lainez, a Department of Defense Spokeswoman at the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense. On behalf of the US Department of Defense she informed me about the following:
Mr. Schall,
I would refer you to Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) — I’ve cc’d the PAO for your convenience.
Eileen M. Lainez.
I was now connected at SHAPE with Martin Downie, Colonel of the US Army. I wrote back:
Dear Eileen,
thank you very much!
Dear Col. Downie,
I copy this e-mail to Pepe Escobar of Asia Times Online.
Related to the request below, it might it interesting for you what we were told by ret. US Lt. Gen. Mark P. Hertling of the 7th US Army.
On April 24, I sent this e-mail to the Press Office of the U.S. Army Europe ( It said:

Dear Ladies and Gentlemen,
could you forward the following message to the retired Lieutenant General of the US Army Europe / 7th US Army (USAREUR ) Mark P. Hertling, please?
Thank you!
Dear Lieutenant General Hertling,
my name is Lars Schall, I am a freelance journalist for Asia Times Online. I copy this e-mail to Pepe Escobar, geopolitical analyst for Asia Times Online.
We are working on a story related to the mortar grenade incident on the Syrian-Turkish border in October 2012. Please take a look below.
A media request was sent by us to the general staff of the Turkish armed forces.
The comment by the press office of the Ministry of Defense of Austria was – to be honest with you – not worth the time to write it. The staff of “Der Soldat” didn’t respond to our questions so far.
Our questions for you, Sir: it came to our attention that you’ve stated on October 27, 2012 about the mortar grenade incident:
Origin of Syrian shells into Turkey unclear, US general says
It is not clear who is shooting shells from Syria into Turkey, the commander of the U.S. Army Europe  and Seventh Army, Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling has said, private television channel NTV yesterday.
“We are not sure if these shells are from the Syrian army, from rebels who want to get Turkey  involved in the issue or from the PKK [Kurdish Workers’ Party],” he said.
Neither NATO nor U.S. troops want to get involved in the increasingly complex Syrian issue, Hertling said, adding that they were presently only sharing intelligence with Turkey and observing the ongoing events in Syria.
A shell from Syria killed five Turkish civilians in the border town of Akçakale in the southeastern province of Şanlıurfa on Oct. 3.
Can you tell Mr. Escobar and me about your insights regarding the mortar grenade incident? And what do you think about the short report in “Der Soldat”?
Kind regards,
Lars Schall.
Ultimately, we received this following message on April 30:
Classification: UNCLASSIFIED
Caveats: NONE
Dear Lars,
Our General Officer engagements office reached out to LTG (ret.) Hertling and he said he did not wish to be interviewed for this article. Regardless, he wanted to clarify his comments made during a press conference after a conference of European Armies. In speaking about artillery impacting in Turkey fired from within Syria, General Hertling was relaying parts of a discussion he had with those in the Turkish military regarding the confusion existing on their border given the complex mix of combatants in Syria. He was not making an official assessment. Hopefully that clarifies LTG Hertling’s involvement with this topic.
Thanks for your interest and best of luck with your story.
Very Respectfully,
Lt. Col. Peggy Kageleiry
Press Desk – Operations, Intelligence, and Logistics Team
Media Relations Division
HQDA Office of the Chief of Public Affairs
In general, I would like to recommend to take a look at the last two thirds of this article related to the alleged NATO mortar grenade:
Weapons from NATO (Turkey) stocks in Akçakale: A puzzle?

Kind regards,

Lars Schall.

Col. Downie wrote then on May 16:
Lars and Pepe,
Thank you for your question. We will get back with you both on this very shortly.
COL Marty Downie
Yet, days went by without Col. Downie coming back with us on this very shortly. Finally, on May 24 I wrote to him, Ms. Lainez, Mr. Eichenlaub, and the two e-mail addresses at the Turkish Armed Forces:
Dear Col. Downie,
while I wait for your / SHAPE’s comment, I am asking myself if you could be so kind to do me a favour. Here’s the background: on April 17 and May 7, I sent a media request related to that mortar grenade incident on the Syrian-Turkish border in October 2012 to the Turkish Armed Forces / the Turkish general staff ( However, I received no response. So I’ve asked Matthias Eichenlaub at the Press Office of NATO HQ if he could find someone at the Turkish Army to take care of my questions. He did so and gave me another e-mail address ( that was recommended to him by some Turkish colleagues. I sent my original request (plus the statement made by ret. Lt. Gen. Mark P. Hertling) once again to Ankara. Yet, there was again the same result: no response. Therefore, do you know someone at the Turkish Army who would bother to give some answers? Or, do you know a phone number at the Turkish Army that I could use? Call me naive, but I think it would be in NATO’s own interest to get some clarification with regards to that topic. I would really like to know the evidence on which Turkey and NATO based their actions after October 2012 (the deployment of Patriot systems to the Turkish-Syrian border). The information from NATO HQ related to this was more or less: We trust that our honourable Turkish ally is telling the truth without having investigated the matter ourselves – or without having asked for an independent (!) investigation. Furthermore, I notice that the allegations from the Turkish side related to the poison gas attack has completely disappeared from the headlines of the world’s major media. In that regard I would also like to forward some questions to your Turkish colleagues.
Thank you for your attention!
Best regards,
Lars Schall.
A few hours later, Col. Downie found the time to tell me then the following:
Classification: UNCLASSIFIED
Caveats: NONE
It is my understanding that HQ Brussels has responded to your questions on 3 separate occasions.  SHAPE does not have anything further to add to those comprehensive responses, which both answered your questions and provided you contact information for the Turkish authorities who could respond to your Turkey-specific questions.
Col. Martin Downie, USA-A
Chief, Public Affairs
Supreme HQ Allied Powers Europe
and Allied Command Operations
So I wrote back to him (and the previously mentioned individuals):
Dear Col. Downie,
it is my understanding that it wasn’t my idea to ask SHAPE anything at all. I wanted to get a comment from the U.S. Department of Defense, and DoD spokeswoman Eileen M. Lainez thought it was appropriate to connect me with SHAPE. I have no idea why she did so – she didn’t told me.
Anyway, thanks for coming back on this „very shortly“!
Lars Schall.
Now that I found myself in a cul de sac, I wrote also again to Ms. Lainez at the Pentagon seperately:
Dear Eileen,
back to the beginning:
How does the Pentagon / United States Department of Defense comment on this report in „Der Soldat“?
Lars Schall.
Response? There was none.
On May 28 I sent this e-mail to:
Dear Ms. Davis, dear Mr. Whitman,
As you can see below, your colleague Ms. Lainez connected Mr. Escobar and me with SHAPE in Belgium (we have no clue why she did so). However, SHAPE didn’t add anything to the information that we’ve received from NATO HQ. Moreover, Ms. Lainez doesn’t seem capable to give a comment on the matter herself. Therefore, I perform a full circle now by asking you once again:
How do you comment for the Pentagon on the story in “Der Soldat”? If the story was true, where would the justification for the deployment of Patriot systems to the Syrian-Turkish border? The Turkish Armed Forces do not communicate with us related to the story other than solely with “the sound of silence”. That doesn’t really look credible to me.
Mr. Escobar and I would appreciate a timely response from you; Ms. Lainez and Col. Downie of SHAPE have already wasted enough of our time.
Kind regards,
Lars Schall.
The response to it? There was none until today.
With respect to the Turkish side of the equation, I wanted to give it one more try by writing to the Embassy of the Turkish Republic in Berlin on May 30. I told them about my rather one-sided communication with the Turkish Army and asked, if it was possible to forward my copied request to the office of the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
The response of the Turkish Embassy? Well, if you guess that there was none, you’re absolutely  right.
However, I did put the both e-mail addresses of the Turkish Army in the carbon copy field – and all of a sudden I received this message:
Sayın Lars Schall,
30 Mayıs 2013 tarihli elektronik postanız alınmıştır.
Konuyla ilgili olarak 0312 4250813 belgegeçer numarasından talebinizi iletebilirsiniz.
Genelkurmay Başkanlığı
Translation: a) the General Staff of the Turkish Army told me that they received my e-mail, and b) they asked me to send them a fax. That’s what I did on June 1 (see this PDF).
Then again days went by without any response. On June 12 I wrote again to the Turkish Embassy in Berlin and to the Turkish Army:
Dear Ladies and Gentlemen at the Embassy of the Turkish Republic in Berlin,
is it possible that you respond in any way to my e-mail below from May 30? I’ve tried a few minutes ago to get connected with you via this phone number:
Yet, no one picked up the phone at the other end of the line. The same happened when I tried to call the office of the Turkish consul general in Berlin.
Dear Ladies and Gentlemen at the Turkish Armed Forces,
related to the e-mail below, I received on May 30 this message from you (via
Sayın lars schall,
30 Mayıs 2013 tarihli elektronik postanız alınmıştır.
Konuyla ilgili olarak 0312 4250813 belgegeçer numarasından talebinizi iletebilirsiniz.
Genelkurmay Başkanlığı
On June 1, I sent you the fax that you’ve requested. However, so far I did not received your answers. Could you be so kind to tell me how long you want to let Mr. Escobar and me wait for them?
Kind regards,
Lars Schall.
Was there any response to it until today coming my way? No.
So all in all the Pentagon / DoD and the Turkish Army / Turkish Republic aren’t really in the position, it seems, to comment on a rather simple, yet slightly inconvenient matter.
And that is that, I’m afraid.
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