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Situation Update - Syria

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US, UK and France target military installations across Syria with precision airstrikes

Summary

  • At around 0400 local time on Saturday 14 April, the United States, supported by military assets from the UK and France, carried out a series of precision airstrikes at predetermined military installations across Syria
  • The operation went on for approximately 70 minutes during which in excess of 100 missiles were fired
  • Syrian air defence surface-to-air missiles launched in response to the incoming threat; no Russian protected airspace was crossed
  • Multiple locations targeted, primarily military and scientific installations in Damascus and Homs
  • President Trump went live to address the nation at 2100 EDT, in coordination with the commencement of the operation. Both UK and French prime ministers issued statements soon after
  • The airstrikes were launched from multiple locations, and delivered using land and sea based assets
  • US launched Tomahawk missiles from ships based in the Mediterranean Sea in support of a B-1 strategic bomber deployment
  • Cyprus based RAF Tornado GR4 aircraft reported to have struck targets using Storm Shadow cruise missiles
  • France used naval assets based in the Mediterranean to coincide with fighters deployed from France
  • Russia and Iran both issue statements condemning the airstrikes and warning of ‘consequences’
  • Crowds take to the streets in the capital waving Syrian, Russian and Iranian flags in a show of defiance against airstrikes
  • FAA warns of 200 nautical mile proximity risk to Damascus flight information region (FIR)

 

missile attack Syria

Situation 

Shortly before 2100 EDT on Friday 13 April, President Trump addressed the nation live on TV from the White House, confirming his decision to go ahead with conducting airstrikes on precision targets in Syria. During his speech he stated "The purpose of our actions tonight is to establish a strong deterrent against the production, spread, and use of chemical weapons.” Within minutes of the address, reports began emerging of explosions in Damascus and Homs.

The operation continued for approximately 70 minutes during which a claimed payload of in excess of 100 missiles was delivered onto strategically targeted locations with surgical precision. Airstrikes were carried out using a mix of land and sea based military hardware operated by the US, UK and France and launched from platforms in the Eastern Mediterranean, Red Sea, France and possibly Qatar according to international press reports.

Whilst not all target locations have been divulged, judging by overnight footage and media reports from the region, it appears the following areas were struck:

1. Republican Guard Brigade 105 - Damascus

2. Air Defence Base - Jabal Qaseen Damascus

3. Al Mezah Military Airport

4. Al Dameer Military Airport

5. Scientific Research Center - Barza Damascus

6. Scientific Research Center - Jamraya Damascus

7. Major General 41 Special Forces - Damascus

8. Military sites near Al-Rahiba in Al-Qalamoon Al-Sharqi - Damascus countryside

9. Locations in Al-Keswa area - Damascus countryside

10. Military sites near Homs

Implications 

President Putin gave a press conference on Saturday 14 April during which he condemned the “attack on Syria in the most serious way" and said Russia would call for an urgent UN meeting. In a statement carried on Russian state TV, Mr Putin said striking Syria was an "act of aggression", adding the suspected chemical weapons attack in the town of Douma last week had been staged and used as a pretext for the attack.

Earlier on Saturday morning Russia's Defence Ministry said the majority of missiles fired during the attack were intercepted by Syrian air defence systems using Soviet-produced hardware, including the Buk missile system. However, Anatoly Antonov, the Russian ambassador to the US, warned that in spite of the limited claimed impact of the airstrikes, “such actions will not be left without consequences” adding Moscow was being threatened.

Globally, a number of nations have openly supported the airstrikes including Australia, Canada, Turkey, Israel and Germany along with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg who said the operation would “reduce the regime's ability to further attack the people of Syria with chemical weapons.”

Iran, a major supporter of the Bashar al-Assad regime, has joined Russia in condemning what it described as “ the blatant violation of international laws, as well as ignoring the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria," according to an Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman. The state-run Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) also reported Syria’s Foreign Ministry as stating joint US, UK and French airstrikes were a "flagrant violation of international law and the principals of UN charter," adding “Syria calls on the international community to strongly condemn this aggression, which will lead to nothing but the igniting of tensions around the world and pose a threat to international peace and security as a whole”.

Despite the warnings and rhetoric coming out of Moscow and Tehran, there have been no signs of any retaliatory measures as yet. It is thought the US specifically identified targets to mitigate the risk of Russian forces being involved and that Russia may have been tipped off ahead of the airstrikes. Indeed, the Russian state news agency TASS reported that “none of the launched missiles entered the zone of responsibility of Russian Federation air defence units, protecting facilities in Tartus (naval base) and Hmeymim (air base). This indicates confirmation that the airstrikes appear to have been designed as a carefully measured response to the alleged use of chemical weapons by Syrian forces; without provoking tensions with Russia to a point of no return.

The situation remains fluid and the next 24-48 hours are critical. The airstrikes appear to have been a single operation, and in fact US defence officials confirmed early Saturday that “this wave of airstrikes is over." However, this was also caveated with the warning that they are prepared for a sustained campaign until the Syrian regime ceases its alleged use of chemical weapons.

In terms of impact across the region, the fallout from the airstrikes appears limited. In the immediate hours following the airstrikes, as expected it was concerns over commercial airspace safety which first emerged as the FAA issued another Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) regarding risk to aircraft operating within 200 nautical miles of the Damascus flight information region (FIR).

This is a significant area covering over 300 kilometres and could potentially mean re-routing or service disruption for aircraft operating into and out of Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Cyprus. A previous rapid alert notification from the European Aviation Safety Agency to its operations portal issued on 11 April, warned of the possibility of missile activity in the ‘Eastern Mediterranean/Nicosia FIR’ and intermittent disruption to radio navigation equipment within 72 hours of publication. Subsequently Kuwait Airways announced it will cancel flights between Kuwait and Beirut from 12 April onward, until further notice, due to security warnings. Middle East Airlines, based in Beirut, announced it will reroute and retime certain flights due to the “recent security situation between US and Syria”.

Within Syria, it is likely the operation will be seen as a success given the claimed rate at which the soviet 70’s era air defence systems were able to neutralise incoming missiles. Whilst this is purely speculative, particularly among weapons hardware experts who have questioned the capability of S-125, S-200, Buk and Kvadrat variant air defence systems, hundreds of Syrians have already taken to the streets rejoicing and waving victory signs in defiance at the airstrikes. Large numbers of Assad supporters turned out in Omayyad Square on Saturday morning, many waving Syrian, Russian and Iranian flags. Lengthy convoys of private vehicles drove through the city, horns blaring, as the jubilant mood continued with large crowds of civilians mixed with troops chanting “we are your men, Bashar.”

Saturday’s airstrikes by the US, UK and France are the biggest military Western intervention into Syria’s seven year civil war and they are certain to raise new questions about President Trump’s Middle East strategy and what the next moves will be. However, it seems highly unlikely the US would want to commit to an indefinite presence in Syria, and this is indicative of the measured, surgical, nature of the targeting of today’s airstrikes; seemingly in response to the alleged chemical weapons attack in Dhouma, rather than a wider move to commit increased military resources to the area.