Syria Strike 18
Donald Trump directed the US military to conduct operations, in consonance with allies, to destroy the Syrian regime's chemical weapons research, development, and production capabilities. This operation does not seem to have a widely attested name, although some DOD sources refernce it as Syria Strike 18. The attack on three Syrian chemical weapons facilities had been publicly predicted by Trump and other officials days in advance. Syria surely had time to evacuate personnel and important equipment, leaving little more than empty buildings as targets for cruise missiles to bounce the rubble.
On 13 April 2018, France, the United Kingdom, and the United States took action to strike the Syrian chemical weapons infrastructure. The bombardment, a coordinated effort involving both Britain and France, began at 9 PM Eastern Daylight Time (Washington time) Friday [4:00 am 14 April 2018 Syrian time, shortly before dawn prayers] and rained down more than 100 cruise missiles on Syrian facilities in the capital, Damascus, and the city of Homs. Donald Trump tweeted "A perfectly executed strike last night. Thank you to France and the United Kingdom for their wisdom and the power of their fine Military. Could not have had a better result. Mission Accomplished!"
The aerial bombardment came just days after Trump taunted Moscow on Twitter after its envoy to Lebanon was quoted as saying that Russia, which backs Assad militarily together with Iran, would shoot down any U.S. missiles launched against Syrian targets. "Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria. Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and 'smart!'" Trump wrote, chastising Russia for supporting Assad, whom he called a "gas killing animal."
“In 2013, President [Vladimir] Putin and his government promised the world they would guarantee the elimination of Syria’s chemical weapons,” Trump said. “Assad’s recent attack and today’s response are a direct result of Russia’s failure to keep that promise.”
The US-led strikes encountered some initial resistance from Syrian air defense systems, but that it appears Russian defense systems did not engage. “The targets that were struck and destroyed were specifically associated with the Syrian regime chemical weapons program,” Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said. The first target was a scientific research center in the greater Damascus area. The military facility was a center for research, development, production and testing of chemical and biological agents, the general said. The second target was a chemical weapons storage facility west of Homs. “We assess this was the primary location of Syrian sarin and precursor production equipment,” he said. “The third target … contained both a chemical weapons storage facility and an important command post.”
According to the 10 April 2018 report by Turkish media outlet Yeni Safak, the United States had determined 22 critical points across Syria to strike in response to the Assad regime’s latest use of chemical weapons on Syrian civilians. Among those points were strategic areas densely populated by Shiite militias. Russian soldiers are deployed at two military bases in the Homs and Tartus regions which were also said to be among the targets. Syrian International Relations Specialist Zakariye Molahafci says the U.S. has prepared a detailed target map and is ready to strike over 20 military points across Syria in the upcoming days. Drawing attention to the mobility of Daesh along the Deir ez-Zor-Al Bukemal line, Molahafci claimed that strategic points – mainly military airports – would be bombed by France, the UK and Israel as well as the US. Molahafci said that military bases in Homs, Damascus, Tartus, Hama, Hasakah, Deir ez-Zor and Raqqa were among the targets. Pan-European air traffic control agency Eurocontrol on 10 April 2018 warned airlines to exercise caution in the eastern Mediterranean due to the possible launch of air strikes into Syria in next 72 hours. Eurocontrol said that air-to-ground and/or cruise missiles could be used within that period and there was a possibility of intermittent disruption of radio navigation equipment.
Donald Trump and Western allies were discussing possible military action to punish Syria’s President Bashar Assad for a suspected poison gas attack on 07 April 2018 on a rebel-held town that long had held out against government forces. Trump on Tuesday cancelled a planned trip to Latin America later this week to focus instead on responding to the Syria incident, the White House said. Trump warned of a quick, forceful response once responsibility for the Syria attack was established.
Trump took to Twitter to call for Russia to “get ready” for “nice and new and smart” missiles in Syria as a response to the alleged chemical attack in Douma – the tweet was followed by another one, urging Moscow to stop what he described as an “arms race.” Many have noticed that Trump seemed nervous, with some suggesting that he was “bipolar”.
Russia's ambassador to Lebanon Alexander Zasypkin has said that his country would respond to any US missiles fired at neighbouring Syria by shooting them down and targeting their launch sites. In an interview with Hezbollah-owned al-Manar TV, Zasypkin said that "if there is a US missile attack, we - in line with both Putin and Russia's chief of staff's remarks - will shoot down US rockets and even the sources that launched the missiles."
Russian Navy ships, starting from 11 April 2018, will conduct exercises near the coast of Syria, follows from the international notification for aviation personnel (NOTAM) and navigational warning for seafarers. The reports contain the coordinates of the closed area, as well as the conduct of training shooting there. The training area, located in the international waters of the Mediterranean, is adjacent to the sea border of Syria. It will be closed on 11-12, 17-19 and 25-26 April from 10 to 18 Moscow time.
Currently, as part of the permanent operational connection of the Russian Navy in the Mediterranean Sea, there were about 15 warships and vessels providing the Black Sea Fleet, including the carriers of the Caliber cruise missiles Frigates Admiral Grigorovich and Admiral Essen, as well as submarines that repeatedly struck at the targets of terrorists in Syria.
The US Navy missile destroyer Donald Cook went 100 km to the Russian base in Syrian Tartous. A second US Navy missile destroyer Porter, according to The Wall Street Journal, should also join Donald Cook, arriving in this area of the Eastern Mediterranean not earlier than April 16. Royal Navy submarines have been deployed in striking range of Syrian Army positions.
Two surveillance planes of the US Air Force had recently arrived at the Iraklion Air Station on the island of Crete. According to the media outlet, the two aircraft in question – the MC-12S EMARSS and MC-12W Liberty – were previously employed by the US during its invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. The US Navy announced the deployment of the USS Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group to the Middle East. The strike group includes the titular aircraft carrier plus the destroyers USS Arleigh Burke, USS Bulkeley, USS Forrest Sherman, USS Farragut and guided-missile cruiser USS Normandy.
US Joint Staff Director Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie said during a press briefing: "Syrian regime knows that we've been looking at these targets for a long time, so it's possible that some people might have left. We also chose to strike at 3 o'clock in the morning — 4 o'clock in the morning local time, so we were not trying to kill a lot of people on the objective. If so, we would have stuck in different time of the day. I believe, however, that there is material and equipment associated with each of this sides that was not movable, and that's what really sets them back".
Reuters cited an unidentified senior official in a regional alliance backing Assad as saying that Russia had provided an "early warning" about the planned air strikes to its allies in Syria and that "all military bases were evacuated a few days ago." Dan Smith, director of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), said supplies of chemical weapons, which Syria denies using, could have been moved from the sites prior to the bombing. "I don't think that this would be a serious blow to Assad's capability, even as far as chemical warfare is concerned. And if you look at the overall scale, it would not be a serious degrading of his overall military capability or the ability of the government to inflict really horrible pain on civilian populations".
The decision to strike, made after consultations between Washington, London and Paris, came after military and intelligence officials concluded the Assad government was indeed responsible for a chemical weapons attack on the town of Douma that killed more than 40 people, including women and children, and sickened hundreds more. British Prime Minister Theresa May also blamed Russia for thwarting diplomatic efforts to put an end to the use of chemical weapons in Syria. "There is no practicable alternative to the use of force to degrade and deter the use of chemical weapons," May said in a statement. "We cannot allow the erosion of the international norm that prevents the use of these weapons."
The American ships were: the USS Monterrey, the USS Laboon, the USS Higgins and the submarine USS John Warner. Two B-1 Lancer bombers launched joint air-to-surface stand-off missiles. Support aircraft – tankers, fighters, electronic warfare aircraft and more – also participated. Reports of Air Force F-15 and F-16 aircraft, and US Navy warships, to include destroyer USS Porter, USS Ross, and USS Cook, appeared in error. The B-1Bs are typically armed with JASSM cruise missiles, which have a 450 kg warhead and a range of 370 km. According to the Russian defense ministry, the B-1Bs also fired GBU-38 guided air bombs [even with the 70km range JDAM-ER, this would put the B-1B right on the Syrian coastline]. US Navy warships launched Tomahawks, which have 450 kg warheads and an operational range of between 1,300 and 2,500 km.
France used missile-equipped frigates based in the Mediterranean, including an air defence frigate and three multi-mission frigates, including the frigate Aquitaine. France used France used naval-borne MCDN missile systems for the first time, launching a total of 12 cruise missiles. France fired three cruises missiles from one its multimission frigates in the Syria strikes. France also used five Rafale fighter jets, five Mirage 2000 jets and two AWAC radar-equipped planes flying from several bases in France. The British Defense Ministry said four of its Tornado GR4 warplanes fired a total of eight missiles at one of the targets near Homs, flying from the RAF Akrotiri air base in Cyprus. The ministry claimed that the Syrian government kept a stockpile of chemical weapons precursors at the site.
A total of 105 missiles rained down on a research centre in Damascus as well as a storage site and a bunker 15 miles west of Homs. The Barzah research and development center was hit by 76 missiles: 57 Tomahawk cruise missiles, 19 Joint Air to Surface Standoff Missiles (JASSMs) — all US. The Him Shinsar chemical weapons storage facility was hit by 22 missiles: 9 US Tomahawks, 8 Storm Shadow missiles, 3 naval cruise missiles, 2 SCALP cruise missiles. The Him Shisara chemical weapons bunker was hit by 7 French SCALP cruise missiles.
There were also conflicting signals – from Washington and Paris – on what the Western allies told Moscow before the strikes. Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the US military advised Russia of airspace that would be used in the strike but did not "pre-notify them." Dunford said the targets had been chosen to “mitigate the risk of Russian forces being involved.” Dunford said “normal deconfliction channel was used to deconflict airspace” with Moscow, but that the United States did not share with Russia what sites would be targeted. But Paris described things differently: French Defence Minister Florence Parly said that “with our allies, we ensured that the Russians were warned ahead of time”.
There were concerns before the punitive strike of a Russian military response. Russian officials warned their forces in Syria would shoot down Western missiles and may even target the planes and ships launching them. A senior Russian official started to walk back that threat, saying the Kremlin would protect Russian personnel on the ground. That message appeared to have been heard in Washington.
The Russian military said the three Western allies fired 103 cruise missiles at Syria but that Syrian air defence systems managed to intercept 71 of them. However, a French military spokesman told reporters that “nothing suggests to us that they may have been intercepted”. Russia's ambassador to the U.S. Anatoly Antonov warned the United States, Britain and France would face consequences. "Our warnings have been left unheard," Antonov said. "A pre-designed scenario is being implemented," he said. "Insulting the president of Russia is unacceptable and inadmissible."
Kremlin officials claimed that Russian-supplied Syrian air defense systems intercepted 71 of the 103 Cruise missiles that were launched. The attacked Syrian airbases were claimed as : Duwali- 4 missles, all downed; Al-Dumayr - 12 missles, all downed, Blai – 18 missles, all downed; Shayrat - 12 missles, all downed. 5 out of 9 missles were downed targeting unoccupied Mazzeh airbase, and 13 out 16 missles countered targeting Homs airdrome. The Russian MOD claimed 7 out of 30 missiles targeting facilities near Barzah and Jaramana were shot down. The facilities allegedly related to the so-called “Damascus military chemical programme”. The objects have not been used for a long time, so there were no people and equipment there.
The Russian Defense Ministry said none of its own air defense units were involved as none of the missiles launched by the U.S., France and Britain entered Russian air defense zones around the naval port of Tartus or the air base at Khmeimim, the main facilities used by Russian forces in Syria. Although the Syrian military does have some modern air defenses, including the Pantsir-S1 combined short-to-medium range surface to air missile (SAM) and anti-aircraft artillery system, Russia claimed that the cruise missile attack was repelled mostly by upgrades of 30+ year old equipment, including variants of the Buk self-propelled missile system, the S-125 air defense system, and the S-200, an aging but tried and tested SAM introduced into the Soviet military in the late 1960s.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said all 29 of the members in the alliance back the airstrikes on Syria as a consequence of the Assad regime conducting a suspected chemical attack against its civilians last weekend. Stoltenberg said the strikes early on Saturday by the US, United Kingdom and France were about making sure that chemical weapons cannot be used with impunity. He noted that the three allies said it was "a very successful action" that significantly degraded the abilities of Syrian regime leader forces to launch chemical attacks again soon.
US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley told the UN Security Council the United States is "locked and loaded" to strike again if Syrian regime leader Bashar al Assad again uses chemical weapons. "We are confident that we have crippled Syria's chemical weapons program. We are prepared to sustain this pressure, if the Syrian regime is foolish enough to test our will," she said. "If the Syrian regime uses this poison gas again, the United States is locked and loaded," Haley said.
The UN Security Council rejected a Russian resolution calling for condemnation of the "aggression" by the United States and its allies against Syria. Only three countries - Russia, China and Bolivia - voted in favor of the resolution at the end of an emergency meeting of the 15-member council called by Russia. Eight countries voted against and three abstained. A resolution needs at least nine "yes" votes to be approved. The vote reflected the deep divisions in the UN's most powerful body, which has been paralysed in dealing with the seven-year Syrian conflict and chemical weapons use in the country.
For all their skepticism of Trump, many Europeans have been are brought together by an unequivocal abhorrence of the use of chemical weapons in war, since they were first used on a massive scale in World War I in Europe a century ago. The use of gas was soon outlawed, and that red line in diplomacy should not turn grey, the argument goes.
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