Impact of chemical & missile attacks in Syria By Brig (Retd) Asif Haroon Raja

Impact of chemical & missile attacks in Syria

Asif Haroon Raja

“In the coming days the American people will learn that the (US) Intelligence Community knew that Syria did not drop a military chemical weapon on innocent civilians in Idlib”. Former DIA Col Patrick Lang 

The civil war was triggered in Syria in March 2011 by the Syrian rebels supported by the US, NATO, Saudi-led the Gulf States and Turkey. The war has wrought havoc and the country lay utterly ruined. Nearly 470,000 people including 5, 50,000 children have died in the conflict and 4.8 million have fled the country. The cities and infrastructure are destroyed, there is very little electricity, 80% are living in poverty, and the economy has shrunk by 55%. Syria war is the worst man-made disaster since 2nd World War. But for the Iranian and Hezbollah ground support and Russian air intervention in September 2015 in support of the beleaguered Bashar al-Assad regime, a regime change would have occurred a long time back and Assad would have met the fate of Saddam and Qaddafi.

There are dozens of militant groups operating in the country among which ISIS is the most powerful group, which has carved out its own caliphate under Abu Bakar Baghdadi stretching from Raqqa in Syria to Mosul in Iraq and is in control of oil and gas fields in northeastern Syria. Other prominent outfits are Free Syrian Army (FSA) led by Gen Idris, Al-Nusra Front led by Jeewani, Army of Conquest and Al-Qaeda.

A very serious situation had developed in Syria as a result of two chemical attacks on Ghouta near Damascus on August 21, 2013, killing hundreds of people including a large number of children. The ruling regime was blamed for the attacks. Egged on by Riyadh, Doha, and Ankara, Obama Administration, and NATO had finalised the plan for a direct military action and had deployed Tomahawk cruise missiles to bomb the defense infrastructure of Syrian armed forces. No proof was furnished and to this day its unknown who had fired Sarin tipped rockets. It was generally suspected that Mossad was behind the chemical weapon attack. The US Congress, the American public and British Parliament reeling under public pressure, and wary of the expanding war in the Middle East, had opposed military action fearing that it might trigger a world war. Donald Trump was among the opponents.

Vladimir Putin provided a way out to Obama by suggesting the destruction of chemical stockpiles of Syria in return for the cancellation of the air strikes. Obama relented thereby averting a bigger crisis, but at the cost of annoying Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Since that time, Russia under Putin started gaining a diplomatic edge over the USA in the Middle East. Putin overshadowed Obama after he physically intervened in the Syrian war.

It has now come to light that the Ghouta incident was a false flag attack by Saudi-sponsored Jihadists to secure the bombing in Damascus. As per Seymour Hersh, Turkey was behind it.

The US intervened in Syria by air in September 2014 to destroy ISIS but failed to achieve any results. Puzzlingly, the ISIS grew stronger and richer because of its unchecked oil trade extending right up to the Gulf of Mexico. It is speculated that the US never made any sincere effort since its real target was Assad and not ISIS.

In response to the formal request made by the Syrian government for military help against the rebels and Jihadist groups in July 2015, Russia sent military advisers. Moscow announced that it was extending military support to stabilize the legitimate government and create conditions for a political compromise. It initially stationed its jets at Khmeimim airbase and sent T-90 tanks, artillery and Special Operations Forces to an airbase near Latakia seaport in August 2015. On August 26, 2015, Syria-Russia Friendship Treaty was signed and in last week of September, a Joint Information Centre manned by representatives from Russia, Iraq, Syria and Iran was established in Baghdad for coordination. USA, UK, and Turkey declined to join. Russian warships of Black Sea Fleet moved to East Mediterranean. Tartus naval base in Syria was used by Russia.

Russian air force began striking targets initially on Homs and Hama in northwestern Syria on September 30. Till January 2017, Russian jets carried out 19160 combat missions and delivered 71000 strikes on terrorist infrastructures. Russia employed Su-25, Su-35, Tu-22M3 strategic bombers, attack helicopters as well as cruise missiles. In December 2015, Sharyat airbase near Homs was made functional. From August 16, 2016, onward, Russian jets made use of Hamadan airbase in Iran. On October 15, 2016, Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov moved forward in support of Russian forces in Syria.    

Bolstered by Russia’s air support, the Syrian Army managed to recapture lost spaces including Homs, Hama, Latakia, Idlib, and Palmyra and considerably improved its position. Offensive launched against strategically located Aleppo in September 2016 came to a successful conclusion in December.

In August 2016, 4000 Turkish troops in conjunction with 7000 pro-Turkish Syrian rebels launched Operation Euphrates and since then have captured Jarabalus, al-Rai, and Al-Bab in northern Syria.

500 Special Forces, 250 Rangers and 200 Marines supported by US bombers joined the ground combat in Syria to bolster the efforts of the rebels named as moderates.

Raqqa, the capital of ISIS Caliphate, is surrounded by US-backed Syrian Kurdish fighters.

With so many powers having materially intruded in war-torn Syria, it has become the most dangerous flashpoint. However, Israel which is the main instigator behind the strategy of fomenting chaos in the Middle East and toppling militarily and economically stronger Arab regimes so as to accomplish its dream of establishing Greater Israel, is dissatisfied with the ongoing status quo which is going in favor of President Assad and hence wants his removal at any cost.

While George Bush had pleased Israel by downing regimes in Afghanistan and Iraq, Obama had obliged Israel by way of stepping up the offensive in Afghanistan, starting Arab Spring, toppling regimes in Tunisia, Egypt, bisecting Sudan, making Somalia a failed State, and creating chaos in Syria, Yemen, and Egypt. However, the pro-war hawks in USA and Israel feel that Obama buckled down in Syria because of which the US prestige was severely dented.

Hence the reins of power were handed over to the most unpredictable and rash Donald Trump so as to outshine Putin and to put a fear of USA in the hearts of the world. He is assigned to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, legitimize Jewish Forward Settlements in Palestinian lands in West Bank and Gaza, and get rid of defiant Assad, linked with Iran and Hezbollah, who shows eyes to Israel. Saudi Arabia, Iran, Pakistan, Lebanon, Egypt are also on the hit list of Israel.

The security situation in Syria took a sudden nosedive in the wake of a chemical attack on Khan Sheikhun village in Idlib Province on 4 April 2017. True to their traditions, the US administration and the US-led western media joined by the Jewish controlled media hastened to pin the whole blame on Moscow-backed Assad regime. The pictorial war launched by the western media described the attack as most horrendous and gruesome. No sooner the news became viral on all media outlets, Trump while expressing his anguish over the killings of babies lost his cool and stated that he had changed his mind about Syria.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pentagon rushed to put forward military options and Trump gave a ‘go ahead’ signal without consulting the Congress or seeking approval of the UN. The US Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley made hue and cry and warned that in case the UN tried to come in the way, the US will brush aside norms of diplomacy, international law, and the UN Charter and will go ahead on its own. This impetuous and disjointed decision to strike Syria was taken without gathering any proof of the Syrian regime’s involvement and without determining as to what kind of gas used – Sarin, Mustard or Chlorine. The knee-jerk reckless reaction was exactly similar to the impulsive reactions in Afghanistan in October 2001, in Iraq in March 2003 or in Libya in 2011.

Explanations given by Moscow and Damascus that the bombs were dropped on a chemical warehouse (Sarin gas) in use of the rebels were debunked and scoffed at arguing that if Sarin is bombed with incendiaries, it will be rendered INERT by the exceedingly high temperature of any blast. In their view, it just takes 150 °C to decompose Sarin into various forms of phosphorous. The average missile emits 2,480 °C (4,500 °F) which is way beyond what it would take to completely erase any Sarin.

Yet another claim that pictures of the White Helmets wearing only gas masks and no HAZMAT suits meant there wasn’t a Sarin attack was also laughed at. BBC also rubbished the claims.

The US didn’t deem it fit to take into account other possibilities like ISIS, which had used mustard gas on three occasions. The possibility of Mossad or CIA, notorious for undertaking suchlike perverted acts cannot be altogether ruled out; their aim being to provoke Trump and give him an excuse to launch a direct military action in Syria.

The point to note is as to why the urgency to opt for such a dangerous option that could spell disaster and particularly when Bush administration, CIA and Tony Blair had to cut a sorry figure on account of their over confidence that Saddam was in possession of WMDs. It has still not been proven that Osama bin Laden was involved in 9/11 attacks.

The reason why the US took such a hasty and thoughtless decision was that none has been held accountable for the devastation inflicted upon the targeted Muslim countries without any plausible reason. Trump, who has been flexing his muscles since his takeover was desperate to show his power and direct assault in Syria has satiated his ego that he is a man of action.  

At 3.40 a.m. in the early hours of 7th April, 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles were fired from the two Arleigh Burke – guided missile destroyers, the USS Ross and USS Porter, deployed in the Mediterranean Sea on the Sharyad airfield in Homs province from where the alleged chemical attack had been carried out on the Khan Sheikhun village on April 4, killing 75 people including 10 children. Nine civilians including children were killed. The news that the airbase was completely destroyed and 99 jets destroyed were false.

The attack was hailed by Syria’s opposition, USA, NATO, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, while it was condemned by Damascus and Tehran. Syrian government denied using chemical weapons and condemned the attack. Iran and Russia denounced the act terming it an act of aggression, which will damage Russia-US relations.

Russia has suspended military communications and agreements with the US. This has increased the risk of an accidental clash of two air forces operating in volatile Syria.

The blatant attack has ruined the prospects of thaw in USA-Russia relations and peace returning to Syria in the near future. There is no one in Trump’s Administration suggesting prudence. All are haughty and war crazy. Zionists have seized control of all powerhouses in USA and none can stop them from treading into dangerous domains having fatal consequences. The US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has cautioned Moscow about the US intentions to boot out President Assad, the last thorn in the flesh of Israel. Another American string-puppet has been readied, who will happily share a bed with Israel and like Gen Sisi will approve Israeli aggression against the Palestinians.

The regime change in Damascus will result in converting battle worthy Syrian Army into a NationalSisi Army like in Iraq, meant to fight terrorism only. It will deprive Russia of its sole toehold in the Middle East and dispossess it off the Gazprom gas pipeline to Europe via Syria. It will radically reduce the influence of Iran in Syria and enable the USA to construct its own gas pipeline from Qatar to Europe via Syria.

Unless Russia devises a new strategy to effectively deal with American belligerence and gets out of its dithering mode, the US might regain its influence that had declined substantially in the wake of its anti-Muslim and pro-Israel policies. As things stand at present, the US has taken advantage of Russia’s hesitancy after it had gained a definite political, diplomatic and military edge over the USA and had put its rival on the back foot. Russia waited for too long to go headlong in ousting ISIS from its power base in Raqqa. For unknown reasons, it called off its offensive several times after the UN-mediated peace talks in Geneva commenced in February 2016.

In 2016, the ISIS was suffering defeats and losing ground in both Iraq and Syria. Knowing that the ISIS was CIA creation and is secretly backed by USA and Israel, Russia relied on Washington that it will help in eliminating the ISIS through joint efforts and then will cooperate in its efforts to restore peace and arrive at a political settlement under the umbrella of the UN. 

One wonders why Russia overlooked the US-Israel grand design. Russian had deployed S-300 and S-400 in November 2015 to improve air defence system against hostile air attacks. Why couldn’t it detect and strike the cruise missiles? Or it looked the other way since it had been making good use of 3M-14T cruise missiles against the rebels. Why didn’t Russia wake up when the US Special Forces were deployed to block Syrian Army’s advance towards Aleppo? These were fatal mistakes, which has once again made the position of Assad regime vulnerable.

With the battle of Mosul reaching the final stage and the ISIS almost wiped out by the Iraqi forces, the US in collusion with Turkey and the Kurds will now concentrate on snatching Raqqa from the ISIS so as to add a feather in its badgered cap that it has demolished the IS Caliphate. This milestone should have been achieved by Russo-Syrian forces.    

The USA is likely to dangle a carrot to Russia that to earn its cooperation, it will have to sacrifice Assad. Will Putin take the bait and relent? If he does so, he will cook his goose. China will hang on to its defensive strategy till 2025 and will focus on its six economic corridors to push forward its One-Belt-One-Road concept and hence will be of little use to Russia in its hour of trial in Syria.

Currently, President Xi is on an official tour in Washington and the two leaders are exchanging sweet smiles. Xi’s concerns will be high tariffs imposed by the USA on Chinese products and of course the militarized South China Sea.

While the offensive act will do little to alleviate Syria’s human rights crisis, it may improve Trump’s approval ratings or may backfire.   

Sharyat air base is one of the largest and most active base which is extensively used by Russian jets. The way it was ruthlessly bombed, the whole infrastructure, as well as the assets, deployed on it, should have been destroyed. Interestingly, very little damage was caused to hardened aircraft shelters, petroleum and logistical storage, ammunition supply bunkers, air defence systems, and radars.

Having learnt about the impending attack, all jets less 5, troops and assets had been shifted. Missiles could do no damage to runways. Control towers were partially damaged but were functional. In less than 24 hours after the cruise missiles assault, five jets that were there and had survived flew off.

Americans are questioning as to why such a big risk was taken and what gains were made by firing $ 100 million worth missiles. Yet another handle has come in the hands of protestors in America to beat Trump with.      

Had this important air base along with assets been destroyed, it would have taken considerable time to reconstruct the airfield and make good the losses. It would have certainly rolled back the offensive capability of Syrian forces and dented Russia’s air capability, thereby tilting the balance in favor of the rebels.

A senior Turkish lawmaker Barish Akadash has claimed that Ankara supplied Sarin to foreign-backed militants in Syria. I have my doubts on this disclosure since there is a deep polarization in Turkey. Former DIA Col Lang has claimed that Trump’s decision to launch cruise missiles was based on a lie. He reveals that Russia had fully briefed the US that there was a target in Idlib, believed to a weapons/explosive depot of Islamic rebels. The storehouse had chemicals and not sarin. The chemicals included phosphates and chlorine. There was a strong wind blowing on that day which spread the chemicals and killed/injured the civilians. Trump had castigated George W. Bush for launching an unprovoked, unjustified attack on Iraq. He has committed the same blunder.

The game is on but the dice at present is loaded slightly in favor of USA.   

The writer is a retired Brig, a war veteran, defence analyst, columnist, author of five books, Vice Chairman Thinkers Forum Pakistan, DG Measac Research Centre. Takes part in TV talk shows and seminars, and delivers talks. email:asifharoonraja@gmail.com

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