Was it enough? Did Friday’s airstrikes on alleged Syrian chemical weapons positions really change anything? That’s one question among many likely to be considered this week after more than 100 missiles were fired at three different positions inside Syria at about 4 a.m. Saturday morning local time in response to an alleged chemical weapons attack nearly a week earlier just outside of Damascus.
The most significant target was the Barzah Research and Development Center, located close to downtown Damascus, and heavily protected by Syrian air defenses, Defense One’s Patrick Tucker reports in a battle damage assessment from the U.S. military Saturday morning. That facility was targeted by U.S. warships, “which launched 57 Tomahawk cruise missiles and B-1 bombers 19 JASSM missiles. The bombers were escorted by attack aircraft and an EA-6B electronic warfare jet.”
The second site was the Hims-Shinshar Chemical Weapons storage facility near Homs, against which U.S. forces fired nine Tomahawks. The British fired eight Storm Shadow cruise missiles from Royal Air Force Tornado jets.
The third target: the Hims-Shinsahar Chemical Weapons Bunker, which was the destination for seven French SCALP land cruise missiles.
According to the U.S. military: “This is going to set the Syrian chemical weapons [program] back years,” Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, Jr. told reporters.
Advance notice. According to Syrian officials who spoke to Reuters Saturday: “We had an early warning of the strike from the Russians … and all military bases were evacuated a few days ago.”
How did Syrian air defenses fare? McKenzie said the Syrians responded by firing 40 surface-to-air missiles, most of them after the allied munitions had already struck their targets.
Russia’s military, on the other hand, claimed “Syria’s air defence system… intercepted 71 of the missiles fired on Saturday by the U.S., British and French forces,” Reuters reported from that briefing.
If you’re looking for beachfront property in Arizona, Russia says it has “fully restored” Syria’s own air defense system, according to Moscow’s Colonel-General Sergei Rudskoi, speaking in a televised briefing on Saturday.
Russia also teased possible future sales of its S-300 air defense system to Syria and unnamed “other countries,” Reuters reported Saturday from Moscow.
Moscow later reacted by offering this dark forecast from Putin himself: “Further Western attacks on Syria would bring chaos to world affairs,” Reuters reported Sunday off a statement from the Kremlin in Moscow, following a chat between the presidents of Russia and Iran.
The line in question: “Vladimir Putin, in particular, stressed that if such actions committed in violation of the U.N. Charter continue, then it will inevitably lead to chaos in international relations.” Tiny bit more, here.
Assad’s morning after: Business as usual, if this strangely serene video of him strolling quietly into his Damascus palace is to be believed.
Stuck in the middle with you. “Turkey’s Syria policy isn’t to stand with or against any country,” Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag told reporters this morning in Ankara. “We do not have a united policy with the United States on the YPG issue, and Turkey’s stance has not changed. We are also against the unconditional support for the (Syrian) regime and we are at odds with Iran and Russia on this.” More here.
Britain’s position: This weekend’s strikes on Syrian positions was both “entirely the right thing to do” and “not an attempt to change the tide of the war in Syria or to have a regime change,” the UK’s Foreign Minister, Boris Johnson said this morning. Video via AFP, here.
Germany’s thinking: Assad should not be part of a solution for the fighting in Syria. “Nobody can imagine someone who uses chemical weapons against his own people to be part of this solution,” German foreign minister Heiko Maas said this morning in Brussels.
A note on deterrence: The weekend strikes “might actually embolden the Syrian leader to use his remaining chemical weapons more frequently and with less restraint,” the Atlantic Council’s Barry Pavel writes in Defense One. Here’s why: “The essence of deterrence is to threaten something of such value that the adversary will not want to incur the costs. Inherent in effective deterrence is instilling fear and uncertainty in the mind of the adversary — fear that they would suffer unacceptable consequences for taking an action, and uncertainty about the exact parameters of the next retaliatory attack.” Read on, here.
And at sea this weekend: Some UK-Russian sub-hunting drama in the eastern Med, Britain’s The Times writes in a paywalled report.
The short read: “A Royal Navy submarine armed with cruise missiles is believed to have been hunted by at least one, and possibly two, Russian submarines dubbed ‘the Black Hole’ by western naval experts because they are so quiet.” That, here.
Up next: We turn to the UN Security Council once more. It’s there that today Russia is reviewing a new draft resolution put forward by the U.S., UK and France.
From Defense One
Pentagon Declares Strike Successful. Here’s A Look at What Went Into It // Patrick Tucker: U.S., French, and British planes and ships used a wide variety of precision weapons to hit Syrian chemical weapons facilities. Some saw their first day of combat.
US, Allies Strike Syrian ‘Chemical Weapons Capabilities,’ Trump Says // Defense One Staff: The president said deterring the use of chemical weapons is “a vital national security interest” of the United States.”
Lawmakers Ask: Where’s the Broader Syria Strategy? // Caroline Houck: No surprise that Democrats questioned Friday’s retaliatory strike, but even a few GOP defense hawks wondered aloud.
The Strike May Have Hurt More than It Helped // Barry Pavel: Far from instilling fear in Assad, it may merely have created a short-term munitions shortage.
Two Decades of War Have Eroded the Morale of America’s Troops // Phil Klay: If the courage of young men and women in battle truly does depend on the nature and quality of our civic society, we should be very worried.
China Just Conducted Its Biggest-Ever Display of Naval Power // Steve Mollman: It involved 48 warships, 76 aircraft, and more than 10,000 personnel in the South China Sea, plus an onboard speech by president Xi Jinping in military fatigues.
I Ran US Border Patrol — And I Support Trump’s Call to Deploy the National Guard // David Aguilar: Critics have assailed the president’s decision to send troops to the border. But they can provide additional assistance and resources to agents in times of need.
Welcome to this Monday edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. And if you find this useful, consider forwarding it to a friend or colleague. They can subscribe here for free. OTD1947: Presidential advisor Bernard Baruch coins the term “Cold War.”
Happening this afternoon: An update for reporters on the National Guard deployment to the U.S.-Mexico border.
At the podium: U.S. Customs and Border Protection Deputy Commissioner Ronald D. Vitiello, DoD Deputy Assistant Secretary Robert G. Salesses, and Lieutenant General Daniel R. Hokanson.
That all gets started at 3 p.m. EDT, from the Ronald Reagan Building Press Briefing Room in Washington, D.C.
Afghan and Pakistan troops are fighting each other in two locations about 15 miles apart, Afghanistan’s Tolo News reports.
The scene of the skirmishes: the Zazi Maidan district in Khost province, and eastern Paktia province’s Dand-e-Patan district. Both are just a short distance apart as the crow flies; but to travel between the two cities via Afghanistan’s road would mean traveling some 136 miles.
Here’s what we know so far about how it all started: “Clashes between Khost residents and Pakistani military personnel broke out in Zazi Maidan district along the Durand Line early Sunday morning… when Pakistani soldiers started shooting at a check post close to Jandighar area in Zazi Maidan district.” Three Pakistani soldiers were reportedly killed, and three others arrested, Tolo writes.
The tensions in Khost began much earlier, sparked by something we missed entirely last week when “a barrage of missiles were fired by Pakistan into Kunar province,” Tolo reports. “Ghani Samim, Kunar governor’s spokesman, said in a week nearly 1,500 missiles had been fired on Kunar province.”
This morning in Khost, Afghan tribesman reportedly “returned a Pakistani soldier they captured in a deadly skirmish along the countries’ border, as well as the bodies of five soldiers… to Pakistani troops,” Khost governor Hukum Khan Habibi tells Reuters.
According to Reuters, “The dispute arose over Pakistan’s work on a fence intended to span nearly all of the disputed 2,500-km (1,550-mile) border, much of it mountainous and porous. Afghan officials have alleged that Pakistani troops crossed onto Afghanistan soil, prompting firing on Sunday by border forces and the local tribal force.”
The skirmish in Paktia “started after the Afghan and foreign troops tried to close a Taliban transit route close to the Durand Line but the Pakistani forces started shelling the Afghan security forces,” local officials told Tolo this morning. “Clashes broke out when the Pakistani troops reportedly tried to take control of an Afghan check post. Local residents responded until security forces arrived in the area. Three Pakistani soldiers and two Afghan civilians were killed in the skirmish.”
Contributing factors in all this, according to Afghan-watcher and Fulbright scholar Ahmad Shuja:
- Unclear boundary demarcation;
- Pakistani attempts to build posts, fence the line to secure boundary;
- Locals objecting to limits on their free cross-boundary movement;
- Afghan forces increasingly sensitive to all of above.
Also from Shuja: “The 20 Super Tucanos [aircraft that] Afghanistan got a year ago? Well, they’re conducting one-third of all Afghan airstrikes,” according to Tolo News, reporting Saturday.
U.S. Marines in Norway could stay beyond their present 2018 year-end deadline, Reuters reports this morning from Oslo. A bit more on the thinking there from Norway’s foreign minister, which immediately irked Russia, here.
F-22 damaged in mishap at Fallon, Nevada. Air Force public affairs confirmed that a Raptor was damaged, but declined to confirm what a source told The Drive: that the aircraft came to rest on its belly during takeoff. Watch this space.
Satellite killer. Russia is working on a missile designed to shoot down U.S. satellites for guiding “guide bombs, drones, and troops,” Ankit Panda reported this weekend in The Daily Beast.
And finally: Listen up, maggots. R. Lee Ermey, the Marine Corps drill instructor-turned-actor, died Sunday of complications of pneumonia. Of his star turn in Full Metal Jacket, he said: “Kubrick ate it up. He loved it. He just let me go crazy.” R.I.P., Gunny.