In an address to his nation on Apr 13 at 8:30 PM Washington time (on Apr 14 3:30 AM Moscow time), U.S. President Donald Trump announced the start of a military operation against the “Assad regime.” He accused the Syrian authorities of using chemical weapons against civilians in Douma near Damascus and blamed Russia for failing to stop the use of chemical weapons in Syria.
"In 2013, President Putin and his government promised the world that they would guarantee the elimination of Syria's chemical weapons. Assad's recent attack and today's response are the direct result of Russia's failure to keep that promise,” Trump said.
Thus, before striking Syria, Trump made Russia seriously - not fully - responsible for what was going on in the country.
Right after Trump’s address, U.S., British and French ships and airplanes began bombing targets in Syria (from 3:42 AM till 5:10 AM Moscow time).
A bit later, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford officially announced the start of the operation: “At 9:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, French, British and U.S. forces struck targets in Syria in support of President Trump's objective to deter the future use of chemical weapons. Our forces were integrated throughout the planning and execution of the operation. The targets that were struck and destroyed were specifically associated with the Syrian regime's chemical weapons program. We also selected targets that would minimize the risk to innocent civilians. The first target was a scientific research center located in the greater Damascus area. This military facility was a Syrian center for the research, development, production and testing of chemical and biological warfare technology. The second target was a chemical weapons storage facility west of Homs. We assessed that this was the primary location of Syrian sarin and precursor production equipment.”
Even though the final results of the operation have not been summed up yet, we doubt that it was effective as far as military strategy is concerned. The only result here is that Trump managed to convince British Prime Minister Theresa May and French President Emmanuel Macron to join him and once again confirmed the United States’ ability to form coalitions – no matter if they are strategic or just situational.
The Wall Street Journal quotes a White House official as saying that Syria had been Trump’s consuming, “20-hours-a-day” preoccupation for a whole week before the attack. And this makes the result even stranger.
Syrian sources have confirmed that the missiles were aimed only at facilities the governorates of Damascus and Homs and have refuted the rumors that they also struck targets in the governorates of Hama, Aleppo, Latakia and as-Suwayda. Thereby, they have confirmed the Pentagon’s reports that they did not strike any Russian targets in Syria.
In the province of Damascus, the attackers struck military facilities in al-Kiswah, Barzah and Jaramana and the Dumayr airbase, in the province of Homs they struck military depots. No human casualties have been reported so far.
Dumayr is located 35 km northeast of Damascus and is worthy of special note. The Syrian fighters in Douma and their external patrons claim that the Apr 7 “chemical attack” on that suburb was launched from that airbase. They allege that on that day some Syrian helicopters dropped chlorine-containing matter on Douma and have even found witnesses who claim that it was sarin. Russia’s Defense Ministry had warned about the provocation in Douma long before it occurred and did truly tremendous work during the following week. And the result was obvious: the attack on the first target (Dumayr) was prevented.
According to Sergey Rudskoy, Chief of the Main Operational Directorate of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, the Syrian air defense forces intercepted 71 out of the 103 missiles launched on Syria, including Tomahawks launched by Laboon and Monterey ships, GBU-38 bombs launched by B-1 bombers, air-to-surface missiles launched by F-15 and F-16 fighters and Scalp EGs launched by Tornado jets. The Russians also report no human casualties.
For them, this result – or to be more precise, its absence - is a success as all the strikes were repelled by S-125, S-200, Buk, Kvadrat and Osa systems. “This testifies to the high efficiency of the weapon systems operational in Syria and the excellent skills of Syrian servicemen trained by our specialists," Rudskoy said, adding that Russia had fully restored Syria’s air defense capabilities over the past eighteen months and continued improving it.
He noted that a few years ago, the Russians respected the request of their western partners not to supply Syria with S-300 systems. “Today we consider it possible to come back to this issue and not only with respect to Syria,” Rudskoy said.
Of course, the strike group deployed in the Red and Mediterranean seas is not all the coalition has, and very soon, new troops will join them in the Persian Gulf and the Eastern Mediterranean, but the first fiasco of that group has proved that the Russian and Syrian forces made the best of the year that followed the Apr 2017 attacks on the Shayrat airbase: almost all of Trump’s expensive “smart” missiles were intercepted by not so very “smart” and not at all expensive upgraded Soviet-time systems.
As we have already said, the attackers aimed no targets within the coverage of the Syria-based Russian air defense systems but those systems timely detected all of their missiles.
As a result, the Syrians downed all the 4 missiles launched on the Duwali airport, all the 12 missiles launched on the Dumayr airport, all the 18 missiles launched on the Blai airport, all the 12 missiles launched on the Shayrat airport, 5 out of the 9 missiles launched on the Mezzeh airport and 13 out of the 16 missiles launched on the Homs airport.
Only the missiles aimed at facilities in Barzah and Jaramana hit their targets. As a result, those facilities were partly destroyed. The attackers claim that they were involved in Syria’s “military chemical program” but, according to Russia’s Defense Ministry, they had long been abandoned and had neither personnel nor equipment inside.
According to Rudskoy, all is quiet in Damascus and Syria for the moment.
And this is the best result of the Russian-Syrian joint success. The attack has been rebuffed but there are no guarantees that it will not be followed by new even stronger ones. So, the sides must not relax and must work hard to make the “lock” they have put on the Syrian sky even stronger.
EADaily’s Middle East Bureau