Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Syrian Tomahawk Strike - Politics

This is not a political blog but I do occasionally touch on politics as they directly impact naval matters.  Such is the case for today’s post.  I’m going to examine a limited political aspect of the recent Syrian strike and how it relates to the Navy.

The obvious question is, why was the strike conducted?  What was the purpose of the strike?

The strike apparently did a significant amount of damage to the airfield but did not completely destroy it nor did it attempt to.  Hangars, some aircraft, and peripheral buildings were damaged or destroyed.  The runways, the chemical weapons storage (I’m accepting the chemical weapons claims by the President at face value for the purpose of this discussion), and other vital facilities were left untouched.  In other words, the strike was a half-hearted effort at attacking the airfield.  It could just as easily have been a full fledged destruction with no more effort than the launch of some more missiles. 

It seems clear, then, that the attack was meant as a message rather than serious retaliation or, more reasonably, an attack to eliminate the threat of chemical weapons.  The message, presumably, was a warning not to use chemical weapons again and the strike itself was intended to prove that the US would take military action if it happens again.  The significant aspect of the strike was that the chemical weapons were left untouched and intact, ready to be used again.

Given that the strike was a message, what was the point?  We’ve delivered many messages over the last few years, we’ve warned Syria about chemical weapons repeatedly.  We’ve drawn red lines in the sand and then watched while they were ignored.  Is one more warning going to somehow make a difference?  It seems to me that we’re long past the point of warnings.  It’s time to either shut up or take effective action.

The disturbing aspect of this entire incident is that the US clearly knew about the existence and location of the chemical weapons long before they were used.  In the Pentagon’s description of the Tomahawk strike, they specifically mention that the chemical storage facility was not targeted.  That means that they knew of its existence and location.  This raises an ugly question:  if we knew that chemical weapons existed and were in the hands of a madman who had used them [reportedly] multiple times in the past, why didn’t we take action to destroy the weapons before they could be used?

  • The US could have exposed the weapon’s existence on the international stage and put immense pressure on Russia to explain why they didn’t remove and destroy the chemicals as they promised to do and claimed they did.  This would have been a major embarrassment for Russia.

  • The US could have conducted a Tomahawk strike at any time to destroy the weapons.  The airfield is in an isolated location and release of the chemicals would have had little or no effect other than, perhaps, on some Syrian troops which we not shed any tears over.  In fact, it is quite likely that a fuel-air explosive or some similar weapon could have destroyed the chemicals with no release.  I’m not an explosives/chemistry expert so I’ll leave that one to those who are but I note that the disposal method for the chemicals is incineration which is exactly what certain bomb types do.

  • The US could have conducted a raid to seize and secure the chemical weapons.  The airfield was isolated and minimally manned according to the Pentagon with reports of 12-100 personnel on site.  This is exactly the kind of action that the vaunted Marine MEU/MAGTF/SPMAGTF/whatever should be able to execute.

  • The US could have conducted covert destruction of the chemical weapons by SEAL forces.  Again, the airfield was an ideal target for this type of action, being isolated and lightly manned.

  • The airfield and weapons could have been seized by the Army which has units dedicated to airfield seizure.

So, there were a number of options to have dealt with the existence of the chemical weapons prior to their use.  Instead, we waited until they were actually used.  If we were that horrified by their use why didn’t we take proactive action?  Seriously and cynically, how outraged are we, really, if we didn’t bother to take any action prior to the weapon’s usage? 

At this point, we also have to note that the bulk of responsibility for all of this lies with former President Obama.  President Trump has simply not been in office long enough to have had much chance to deal with this.

In summary, we could have acted preemptively but opted, instead, to wait until the weapons were actually used and then we sent a message via Tomahawk.  If we are so horrified by chemical weapons use, why didn’t our message include the destruction of the chemicals?  Instead, the chemicals still exist and can be used yet again.  What will we do then?  Send another message?  This is hypocritical on our part.  By all accounts, the worst that could have happened if we had destroyed the chemical weapons would have been exposure of a small number of Syrian and Russian troops – the very troops responsible for using the chemicals.  Do we really care if the troops using chemical weapons are exposed to the chemicals?  Sounds kind of fitting to me.

Clearly, we were okay with the existence of chemical weapons in the hands of a madman.  We didn’t care enough about the people who were attacked by chemicals to take any preemptive action.  I’m not going to express an opinion about whether we should or should not have taken action but to claim to be horrified by something we knew was eventually going to happen, and could have prevented, is completely hypocritical. 

The selection of Navy Tomahawks as the strike weapon was, no doubt, from a desire to avoid the possibility of downed and captured pilots.  However, I suspect that it was also due to a lack of options.  While the various Marine and Army units/capabilities that I cited as options theoretically exist, I strongly suspect that we have allowed our forces to degrade and become hollow to the point that their use is not really a viable option.  I'm pretty sure that none of the optional forces have been aggressively training and equipping for their assigned roles.  Note, this is just reasonably informed speculation on my part but, if true, leads to the obvious question, what's the point of maintaining the units if they aren't fully mission capable?

The Navy has been put in the position of delivering the hypocritical message and possibly suffering the backlash, if any materializes.  This is an ill use of the Navy in pursuit of a hypocritical and only marginally effective policy.


  1. There were Russian forces at the air base. The news reports I read said that the US limited its targets in order to minimize the damage of injuring Russian personnel and aircraft.

    1. In the post, I offered my view on potentially injuring or killing Russian personnel. What is your take on the subject?

    2. I don't think destroying the chemical weapons would have been worth the high risk of killing or injuring Russian troops. Unless Sharyat was Syria's only chemical weapons facility, a wider strike against more targets would have been necessary to achieve the goal of destroying their chemical weapon's capability. Instead, Trump's rapid decision to destroy aircraft and support facilities will hopefully lessen Syria's will to use chemical weapons.

    3. So, to try to pin down your thinking, you're okay with the Syrians using chemical weapons if there are any Russians anywhere around? You're good with leaving chemical weapons in the hands of a madman who has used them before and will, quite likely, use them again?

    4. Are you OK with killing Russians and starting World War III? Your questioning is really over the top. On balance, the costs of destroying their entire chemical weapons capability is not worth the military and diplomatic cost given that the operation would likely entail an attack (direct or indirect) on Russian forces.

      If you impose high costs like destroying 20 jet aircraft, then that changes Syria's calculations of the net benefit of using chemical weapons and makes them less willing to use CW. Resistance is capability times will. If your goal is stop the use of CW, then taking away their will is sufficient.

    5. You'll recall that Turkey recently shot down a Russian aircraft and - get this - WWIII did NOT start. So, your premise that killing a few Russians will trigger WWIII is demonstrably false.

      Your second premise, that losing some aircraft will modify Syria's behavior, is equally and demonstrably false. Syria's initial use of chemical weapons resulted in all kinds of repercussions, diplomatic consequences, and losses for Syria but did not stop them from using the weapons again.

      Anything else you'd like to add?

    6. I wasn't literally arguing that WW III would happen. That was a rhetorical question satirizing your straw man questions.

      However, the Russian response to an attack on their aircrews would likely generate downsides which would have outweighed the benefits of destroying the chemical weapons at that base. The two scenarios are completely different. The Russian warplane violated Turkish air space during a combat mission. The shootdown of the one plane was an act of self defense. Whereas, bombing or gassing several Russian aircrews on their own base is an overtly offensive act. To assume that the Russians would have behaved the same is tenuous.

      Would you not agree that Syrian losses from this strike exceeded their gains from the chemical attack? Therefore, the attack was a net negative. Given that any future CW will likely provoke a stronger military reaction from Trump, Syria's will to use chemical weapons is seriously damaged.

      So that is what else I'd like add.

    7. "bombing or gassing several Russian aircrews on their own base is an overtly offensive act."

      No, protectively (or preemptively) attacking and destroying a weapon of mass destruction is a purely defensive and humanitarian act, not an overtly offensive one. Russia, along with most of the world, has signed multiple treaties banning such weapons. To give one specific example, Russia is a signatory to the Chemical Weapons Convention of 1997 which bans development, production, stockpiling, and use of chemical weapons. Therefore, Russia knowingly violated a treaty they signed by being part of the storage and use of chemical weapons. While a lawyer might attempt to argue that, technically, Russia did not violate the treaty, Syria did, we all know that Russia is equally guilty by standing by and allowing the use of chemical weapons. Russia should be conducting their own strike, not criticizing the US!

    8. "Would you not agree that Syrian losses from this strike exceeded their gains from the chemical attack? "

      No. Syria successfully thumbed their nose at the US and gained international recognition and prestige among the US-hating nations of the world. The handful of obsolete aircraft that were destroyed can be replaced with brand new, modern Russian aircraft - a net immense gain for Syria. Syria retains their chemical weapons - a net neutral. Syria now knows that we won't destroy the chemical weapons - a net gain in knowledge.

      So, no, I disagree completely that Syria suffered a net loss.

    9. "Russian response to an attack on their aircrews would likely generate downsides which would have outweighed the benefits"

      What would the downside possibly be? Would they dislike us more than they do? That doesn't seem possible. Would they harass our ships and aircraft? Oh, wait, they already do that so no downside there. Would they impose economic sanctions on us? They have no economic power. We don't import anything from them of any consequence so there's no downside there. Will they conduct a negative publicity campaign against us? Oh wait, they already do that on a daily basis.

      What's the downside?

    10. "What's the downside?"
      Potentially war. That's the obvious worst case outcome.
      Potentially increased opposition within Syria itself - i.e. they might start shooting American and allied planes out of thee sky, which would lead to retaliation and again, potentially to open conflict.

    11. The official Russian position is that the strike is an act of aggression.

      The Russians are not going to give away 20 modern planes. Syria will have to pay for them, that is if anybody is willing to be a seller. Second, their air force will be out the 20 planes until replacements arrive -provided that ever happens. I doubt that Syria is going to spend hundreds of millions on new fighters only to provoke another American attack - this time destroying their expensive replacement aircraft. It is undeniable that Syria lost operational combat aircraft. I think you are completely off base to deny that Syria has not suffered a net military loss.

      Syria did not gain any knowledge that would make them feel safer about the likelihood of a US attack. In fact, this attack was unexpected. The Syrians already were confident that the US would try to avoid civilian casualties and harming Russian units. Moreover, even if the Syrians now feel that their CW are safe from US air attack, that knowledge does not help them in the existential crisis that they are facing - the civil war. Surviving against the rebels and ISIS is priority number 1 for Syria. That is why the loss of operational combat units hurts them so much.

      Thanks other anon for pointing out things that I think should be quite obvious downsides. Other anon also left out cyberattack or leaking information harmful to the US government. The Russians did say that they were leaving the de-escalation agreement which makes it riskier for us to continue our operations in Syria.

    12. The Russians on base sheltered in place. They had a 30 minute warning

    13. "Potentially war. That's the obvious worst case outcome."

      The Russians aren't going to war over Syria or the possible exposure of a few troops to chemicals that are illegal AND WHICH THE RUSSIANS CERTIFIED AND SWORE WERE DESTROYED AND NO LONGER EXISTED. This was the time for moral courage.

      At some point, you have to act courageously regardless of the consequences. This was that time.

      On a practical basis, the Russians are a pale shell of the former Soviet Union. They are no match for the US and they know it. They aren't going start a war over illegal chemical weapons.

    14. "The Russians are not going to give away 20 modern planes. Syria will have to pay for them,"

      Of course Syria will have to pay for them. They already have! Syria has gained the entire Russian military presence in their country. They have come out way ahead, already. The price is a permanent presence by Russian troops (naval base at Tartus, for example). The loss of a handful of obsolete aircraft has already been more than offset by the presence of Russian troops, SAMs, aircraft, ships, etc. and their active participation on the side of Assad. Syria is way ahead!

    15. "The shootdown of the one plane was an act of self defense."

      You don't think the destruction of banned, illegal, chemical weapons isn't an act of self-defense on behalf of all of humanity???? Who cares if a few Russian troops are possibly exposed? That's nothing against the reality of defending women and children from the horrifying effects of chemical weapons. You can't conjure a more obvious case of self-defense than the destruction of chemical weapons!

    16. USA still have hundreds of tons of chemical weapons in storage, "awaiting destruction." Seems to be taking a long time. Blue Grass Army Depot, Pueblo Army Depot.

    17. You seem awfully certain about the fact that Russia won't retaliate unilaterally in Syria if the US starts killing Russian troops. I don't share your certainty.
      I don't think anyone is disputing the moral right of attempting to disarm Assad of chemical weapons. My point is simply that the reason that the US was careful not to kill Russian personal is that they are conscious of the risk that it could escalate into a shooting war with Russia in Syria. That's apparently not a risk the current administration sees as worth it.

    18. When considering how the Russians would react in ways harmful to US interests, you must understand how the Russians would have viewed an attack on their troops. Your perception or legal arguments in defense of the attack are not held by the Russians and would not moderate their reaction.

      "Syria has gained the entire Russian military presence in their country."
      Pre hoc ergo propter hoc?
      The Russian deployments happened BEFORE the attack, therefore, the attack or any fallout from the attack could not have caused the Russian deployments. The commitment of Russian troops to fight for the Assad regime simply was not a concession by Syria in exchange for replacement aircraft.

    19. "The Russian deployments happened BEFORE the attack"

      Quite right! What I'm saying is that the Syrians factored the already-received Russian assistance into their thinking about should/shouldn't they launch the attack and, rightly, concluded that the US response, if any, was worth the cost and that any potential lossed incurred would be more than compensated by having the entire Russian military (well, the portion deployed to Syria, at any rate) working on their behalf.

      Common sense and logic suggests that Assad consulted with Russia prior to the attack (is he enough of a madman to act completely on his own? hmmm....) and that the Russians assured him that they would make good any potential losses either in the form of continued Russian presence and assistance or in the form of direct replacements. I'm sure the Russians will get the Syrians new aircraft, one way or another.

    20. "You seem awfully certain about the fact that Russia won't retaliate unilaterally in Syria if the US starts killing Russian troops. I don't share your certainty."

      I am absolutely certain. For all their bluster, Russia has nowhere near the military power to take on the US. Any action they take would, ultimately, see them wind up on the extreme "losing" side of the equation. They know this. They are willing to push the envelope, especially when passive-Obama was President, but they know they can't "win" any encounter. They'll back down.

      It is only timid people on our side that give the Russians whatever "power" they have.

    21. "even if the Syrians now feel that their CW are safe from US air attack, that knowledge does not help them in the existential crisis that they are facing - the civil war."

      This is quite true and an astute observation on your part. Nothing about any aspect of this incident enhances Syria's position in its civil war.

      In fact, I'm at a loss to even understand the Syrian's rationale for using chemical weapons. While they inflict terror, they do not inflict any significant military gains and they do come with political costs. I'm truly baffled about their rationale. They could have killed many more civilians with conventional munitions, if that was their objective.

      Why do you think the did it?

    22. I think you already identified why - terror. This is a brutal civil war full of atrocities and counter atrocities. It's easy to see how a Syrian general could authorise a chemical weapons attack in that environment. Obvious miscalculation, but people make those all the time.

    23. You are assuming that the Russians promised to replace any Syrian losses from any potential US strike. The more plausible explanation is that the Syrians and Russians simply did not anticipate the US retaliation. The Russian government's budget is tight, and they do not have the resources to spend hundreds of millions of dollars replacing Syrian losses (1).

      I think Assad is attacking the civilian population with CW and other weapons in order to break their will to fight. The indiscriminate death is likely intended to intimidate his enemies into submission. However, the attack might have backfired because the celebrated US response likely stiffened the resolve of the rebels.


    24. "do not have the resources to spend hundreds of millions of dollars replacing Syrian losses "

      Seriously???? Look at the overall picture of what Russia is trying to accomplish. The Russians have gained a permanent naval and air base in the Mediterranean. They're willing to pay whatever it takes to maintain that. A handful of older, replacement aircraft that Russia probably has no real use for anyway is a small price to pay for a permanent base. In addition, Russia now has Syria/Assad firmly under their control. Russia has come out of this so far ahead it's almost unbelievable. Between Russia, China, Iran, and NK, we are being badly outplayed on the world geopolitical stage.

  2. Serious questions were raised about whether the 2013 Ghouta sarin attack was a false flag done by the rebels themselves to use the "red line." Reportedly, Clapper himself told Obama there were doubts. That is the big reason the USA did not bomb Assad then. The extensive reporting on this was done by Sy Hersh in the London Review of Books. "The Red Line and the Rat Line."

    Since then, the MSM has attempted to hide these doubts. The fact of the 2013 attacks being done by Syria is now a mantra of faith. With the serious doubts being hidden, why believe anything the MSM or government says?

    In any event, the American people have little interest in who rules Syria. To the extent they do,it is to ensure Salafi jihadists of the Al Qaeda/ISIS type do not take it over. Yet that is who the US has been aiding. Why? Because Israel wants US to eventually bomb Iran and throw it into chaos. Taking away Iran's allies in the neighborhood is a necessary predicate.

  3. Al Qaeda/ISIS must be jumping for joy, drawing the US even deeper into land conflict in Arab countries. Likely the Chinese are even more pleased.
    The Russians hard to say. Syria is not really their core area, if they give up Assad in return for concessions in Ukriane they will be happy. Thats maybe why Russian casulaties were avoided so strenuously, no need to create a
    political reason for Putin to stay in Syria.

    1. I think the Russian's interest in Syria is the naval base at Tartus. This gives them the naval and air basing they need to operate efficiently in the Mediterranean.

    2. How much use is Tartus anyway.
      This wikipedia entry gives some numbers
      'The Tartus facility can accommodate four medium-sized vessels only if both of its 100 m floating piers, inside of the northern breakwater, are operational. It is not capable of hosting any of the Russian Navy's current major warships which range in length from the 129 m Neustrashimyy class frigate through the 163 m Udaloy class destroyer... Im not sure of the reliability of this as the civilian docks are still available.

      As well the article mentions Russians have a form of sovereignty in a small part which you could liken to the US base at Guantanamo Bay. They have the port but dont need their proxy in Damascus ?

    3. In Jan of this year, Russia announced a deal with Syria to lease and enlarge the Tartus naval base to accommodate up to 11 warships, including nuclear powered vessels, according to TASS. They also announced plans to enlarge the air base at Latakia.

      The naval base gives the Russians continuous access to the Mediterranean without having to constantly transit the straits and the Sea of Marmara which are controlled by Greece and Turkey.

      Obtaining these basing rights is why Russia chose to support Assad. Russia wants a long term, permanent presence in the Med.

  4. Setting aside pre-Trump, a direct strike on the chemical weapons storage might have given the Syrians & Russians more ammo for their political spin. (OMG! AMERICA KILLED BABIES!!)

    This was a low risk, high political benefit operation. Just like sticking a CSG offshore of a bad actor not every military action needs to be dialed to 11.

    Also I'm sure this action had multiple targeted outcomes. First, the obvious message to China about NK. Then, there is the seemingly leisurely pace those tomahawks were fired and the phoning of the Russians ahead of time. Assuming we sent those birds on different routes half of them might have been to just dust up SIGNIT.

    1. No one, not even the Russians, could spin a plausible story that chemicals released on a remote air base could cause civilian baby deaths. What are you thinking?

    2. The "America Killed Babies" part was a bit of hyperbole. But, if, as I argue, we went for the political bang-for-your-buck route, $50mm in kaboom sends a nice message. Systems to deliver thermobaric weapons would have been more expensive and required more risk.

      Here we get the moral high ground and get to smack Assad upside the head out of the blue.

      Of course, we do not know the total mission here. Still have to believe there was a strong SIGINT component.

    3. "moral high ground"

      I'm not sure we can claim the moral high ground when we knew about the chemical weapons and not only took no action but didn't even say anything. I'm also not sure we can claim any high ground given that we've allowed the weapons to remain intact even after the attack. Does that really sound like moral high ground?

    4. My point is merely; by attacking a chemical weapons storage facility there is SOME risk of a release of some of the chemical weapon. If we trigger the release of some of the chemical weapon we open the possiblity that Syria/Russia frames us as utilizers of chemical weapons (albiet indirectly, but, crazier things have been believed about the US).

      Still wondering if we know the actual primary objective of this strike. Something about it seems off.

    5. "SOME risk of a release of some of the chemical weapon. ... possiblity that Syria/Russia frames us as utilizers of chemical weapons "

      We can't allow ourselves to be so scared of potential bad publicity that we fail or refuse to act. Besides, do we really think that Russia or Syria or anyone in the MidEast can hate us more if we act or, conversely, will like us more if we don't act?

      Just as on a personal level, a country should act, or not act, because doing so is the RIGHT thing to do, not because it will or will not play well in terms of public relations. Acting, or not, based on polls and public relations is just moral cowardice.

  5. The Trump administration has been left a mess everywhere by the prior administration. As a result our enemies are emboldened every where. Don't forget we have troops on the ground in Syria including artillery engaged directly with ISIS.
    It maybe a questionable action but it sends a clear proportional message. Next step is up to the Russians.
    If they do not disengage they are proven 100% complicit and the lines are drawn.

    1. They are already proven 100% complicit by having stated that all chemical weapons had been destroyed. They knew about the existence of these weapons and said and did nothing. They likely knew about the strike ahead of time and did nothing and they certainly knew about the strike after the fact and did nothing. The US claims they provided strikes on hospitals to cover the evidence (this one may or may not be true). How much more complicit can they get?

      The lines are already drawn. Don't get lured into the appeasement game.

    2. So if the line is drawn and the Russians/Syrians say F#ck U to Trump/USA, what's next? War between Russia and USA over Syria?!?

    3. That is the question, isn't it? Do we have a true national security interest that compels us to act, or not?

    4. There's none. ISIS itself isn't a core national security threat. I'd say reduce our footprint to ongoing anti-ISIS ops to keep our foothold with the Kurds, and let the Russians/Iranians/SAA grind out the rebels in the next year or two, then settle. Federalized system with semi-independent rojava, figure out a way to placate Turkey, and detente with Russia in Syria.

      As far as it goes, I do not see a strategic interest implicated in Syria at all.

    5. Appeasement..., I? LOL. I ain't related to Chamberlain. No, Syria is already in the hands of crazies.

      Here's the politics of the matter for you CNO:


      My comment:

      "We already have troops on the ground in Syria (including artillery...) against ISIS in direct action, what more do McCain/Graham want? Last week's Tomakawk strike appears two-fold- keep Assad from ever using WMD again (maybe..lol) and two, send a message to Russia of- "WTFO"?

      So, according to this article, the "OBE" person, McCain ("dead to me"); and his ex-AF lawyer turned politico butt-buddy, Lindsey, want to escalate the USA into this screwed up Civil War instigated by the Obama generated Arab Spring? Is that really in the USA's interest? Methinks not.

      I recommend the Trump administration and Mattis compel Turkey, Eygpt and Saudi Arabia to invade and stabilize Syria, and that we can advise them if they ask. Let the Arabs un-screw the Arabs, if that is even possible..."

      Is that appeasement?


    6. Couple more things-

      1- that AP article about the Russians flying a drone over the hospital to see where the victims went and then bombing the surveilled hospital with a "fighter-bomber" are incendiary coming from an "official" that wanted to remain anonymous. If even 1/2 true it makes the Russians not "complicit" but directly involved in the Sarin attack. Nothing heard since from AP/elsewhere.... I'm thinking that may be B.S.
      If it is true (unlikely) Tillerson ought to jam that up the Rosskies a$$ when he visits them....

      2- Re all the talk about the BDA in this forum and what we say vice the Russians/talking heads: Haven't we all seen this before? C'mon, we all know how accurate and generally (above 95%) due dilligence our people display when reporting after the fact? They have been burned too many times to put out false/overly optimistic reports. Nope. I go with the official DoD report reported BDA every time. From GW-1, Serbia, OIF/OEF they have learned to be accurate or sau nothing... It is when they are stifled from reporting intell/BDA like that, which happened under Obama's watch on ISIS, is when we have to worry...


    7. "Is that appeasement?"

      Well, the message we actually sent (versus the message we hope Syria will hear) was, if you use chemical weapons we won't stop you ahead of time, we won't destroy your chemical weapon inventory, we won't punish you more than the loss of some aircraft (which Russia will obligingly replace), and we'll allow you to use chemical weapons again, unhindered, if you choose. So, yeah, that's my definition of appeasement.

      As for your suggestion about asking Turkey, SA, and Egypt to invade Syria, that's a nice thought but it has no chance of happening.

    8. This is a strange rewriting of history.
      Obama proposed in 2011 a direct US intervention to overthrow Assad, citing the use of chemical weapons as a cause. He was rebuffed in no uncertain terms - most strongly by the Republican party. Public opinion was strongly against supervention. Congress, the Senate, Donald Trump himself - all openly, publicly opposed intervention.

      You can't blame Obama for everything. It's silly, and childish. You're being extremely one-eyed and non-factual in your appraisal.

    9. I dont think an attack on Assads chemical weapons back in 2011 would have achieved all that much. Locations of all storage sites wouldnt be know, some might be airfield bunkers, others army bases and then those who knows where.
      Im sure the military will report back as 'mission accomplished' -
      which seems to mean what ever they want but even if 10 tons remained, thats still big trouble.
      Thats the real reason Obama didnt take action - it was an impossible dream without another Iraq style invasion.

      Syrian civil war is a bit like the Sri Lankan one, it will continue till one side or the other is totally beaten. Same thing happened in Vietnam.
      Let Assad win and THEN deal with him ?

  6. Once the targets are known, missiles can be launched in minutes. The kind of raids suggested can take days or weeks to plan and execute.

    Elsewhere, I had read that 20 aircraft were destroyed, not the kind of equipment that is easily replaceable. It was a good punch in the nose.

    1. They seemed to be old Su22 fighter bombers, very easily replaced. There is no arms embargo on Syria that is enforceable like that in Yemen.

    2. Only Russia could provide replacement aircraft to Syria. And, after Syria's use of chemical weapons, I doubt that is going to happen anytime soon.

      I'm not wild about the Russians, their hands are dirty in their dealings with Assad. But, if they do anything, I hope they tighten their leash around Assad and reign him in.

    3. "Once the targets are known, missiles can be launched in minutes. The kind of raids suggested can take days or weeks to plan and execute."

      You carefully read the post, right? Therefore, you must have seen that the raids and other actions listed were suggestions for what we could have DONE BEFORE THE CHEMICAL WEAPONS WERE USED. Before they were used, we would have had months to plan our action.

    4. "I hope they tighten their leash around Assad and reign him in."

      The Russians are knowingly dealing with and supporting a madman who has been systematically killing his own citizens for years. If the Russians are okay with that, they're certainly not going to rein him in over a few civilian deaths due to chemicals.

    5. Assuming we knew for months, going back to the end of the previous administartion, that Syria had chemical weapons at that air base, do you really think an outgoing president would risk an operation to seize or destroy those weapons or even publically acknowledge their existence?

      In 2014, the previous administration claimed to have eliminated 100% of Syria's chemical weapons. It would be something of an embarrassment to them to acknowledge they were wrong and Syria either retained some weapons or created new stocks, something they agreed not to do. If we did know, I'm fairly certain that we used back channels to warn against their use.

      Now comes the new administration and they know Syria has chemical weapons. Do you think Trump is going to start his administration with an atttack on Syria? I don't think so. I think they took a wait and see approach. Maybe using chemical weapons was a test of the new administration's resolve, I don't know. But, I think Trump's response was prompt and appropriate. That's what I meant about it taking minutes to launch missiles as opposed to a raid or something similar.

    6. "do you really think an outgoing president would risk an operation to seize or destroy those weapons or even publically acknowledge their existence?"

      I believe Reagan would have. I believe Trump would. Obama clearly did not. It's all about moral courage. Some Presidents have it and some do not.

    7. I agree with you on Reagan and Trump. I don't think Obama would do something that would jeopardize his legacy.

    8. "I don't think Obama would do something that would jeopardize his legacy."

      By not taking action in an attempt to preserve his legacy, he cements his legacy as a moral coward. Ironic, isn't it?

    9. I'm by no means a fan of Obama, but I don't think I would call him a moral coward. To his credit, he gave the go-ahead for the mission to get bin Laden. On the otherhand, Obama crossed out his red line in the sand. Thus allowing Russia to step in and prop up Assad, which has only worsened the situation in Syria.

    10. "I'm by no means a fan of Obama, but I don't think I would call him a moral coward."

      Good grief?! Obama sent pallets full of bribe money to Iran which will be used to sponsor terrorism. He allowed repeated use of chemical weapons by Syria out of fear of bad publicity. He allowed Iran to seize our boats and sailors with no repercussions. He allowed the development of sanctuary cities in defiance of federal law out of a desire to curry favor for political voting. I could go on listing things all night.

      Obama stood for nothing. He had no principles. I'm hard pressed to cite an example of a bigger moral coward (except, maybe, Hilliary Clinton).

    11. Wow! You're on a roll with this one. I would have mentioned Hillary's, I mean, Obama's blunder in Libya, which allowed ISIS to take root in the ensuing chaos.

      But, what you would call moral cowardice, I would describe as incompetence. Between Libya, Iraq, Syria, and Yemen, Trump inherited a heck of a mess in the Middle East.

    12. "what you would call moral cowardice, I would describe as incompetence."

      Certainly, moral cowardice and incompetence go hand-in-hand! When you're unwilling to make the hard choices, you wind up choosing the easier actions which are, generally, less effective and look incompetent. However, it all stems from moral cowardice.

  7. The answers to your questions are simple. There were/are no chemical weapons at that airbase. It was all a ruse. Recall the "slam dunk" intel that Iraq had WMDs.

    1. Your claim that there are no chemical weapons at the airbase is totally unfounded.

      Your suggestion that the Iraq WMD issue was unfounded is factually incorrect. Iraq was found to have significant stores of chemical weapons, probably left over from its Iran-Iraq war during which Iraq used chemical weapons repeatedly. Iraq was also found to have pursued biological and nuclear weapon programs with varying degrees of progress attained. Much WMD raw materials went unaccounted for.

      I invite your comments but only if they're factual. You can offer an opinion as long as you make it clear that it is an opinion rather than fact.

    2. Is "significant stores" the best words for "stuff buried underground and rusting since the 1990s"?

      By 2003, Iraq hadn't had a chemical weapons program for years. Much of the predicate chemicals were provided by Melchemie, a Dutch company, in the 1980s. American chemical companies also provided chemicals used. The USA also lent hundreds of millions of dollars to Iraq in this period.

      Burying the shells and not having records of where they were was just Iraqis being Iraqis.

      No question that the US line justifying the attack was full of lies, including "don't let the smoking gun become a mushroom cloud."

      And of course the USG lied about finding these chemical weapons buried and in random places, hid the truth about troops exposed.

      So Anonymous's broad point about USG lies and obfuscations is well-taken. And you just pointed out the lack of integrity among senior Navy. Credibility of US leadership is shot.

  8. I'll identify this post up-front as speculative. The Russians have claimed that only 23 missiles made it to the airfield. This would help explain why there was so little damage to the airfield that, apparently, the Syrians could operate aircraft there 24 hours later. Do the Russians have such an effective electronic warfare capability that they could have disrupted that many Tomahawks? If so, the Navy could really use a good conventional IRBM that could follow a ballistic trajectory if other guidance methods fail or are deemed unreliable.

    1. From the post-strike photos I've seen and using my, admittedly, amateur BDA skills, I count at least 35-40 hits so the Russian claim is demonstrably false or they are engaged in misdirection by only counting hits that occurred on targets closer to, or directly connected with, the airbase. The remaining missiles that I couldn't account for are probably largely or completely accounted for by multiple hits on the hardened aircraft shelters where I'm not good enough to discern the number of hits.

      Do your own analysis. The photos are readily available on the Internet. Count up the visible hits for yourself.

      Of course, I'm not saying that every black, scorch mark on the ground was an actual target. If a missile missed its target and simply impacted the ground, I wouldn't be able to tell the difference between that and a successful hit. Still, count them up for yourself before you credit the Russians with any accuracy. Come back and tell me what you find.

      The Russians are not exactly renowned for factual reporting so why would you even speculate based on a Russian report without attempting to verify it yourself?!

      Take a shot at your own BDA. You'll probably do better than the Russians!

  9. A strike on the chemicals would have caused their release. Chemical weapons cannot be destroyed via bombs only burnt. That's probably why they avoided striking the weapons themselves because of contamination fears.

    1. This. When the US destroyed its chemical weapons, it had very specific procedures.

      See the following:


      Striking them directly could release them.

    2. There are numerous reports of US bombs designed specifically to destroy chemical and biological weapons. For example, from the Washington Times,

      "If the United States takes part in a military strike on Syria, the Air Force will likely be using bombs designed specifically for the destruction of chemical and biological weapons.

      ... these weapons would “vaporize” stockpiles of deadly agents and stop any particles from being inadvertently released into the air.

      Military.com reports that the U.S. Air Force has spent years developing “Agent Defeat Weapons,” which are designed to target and destroy stockpiles of chemical or biological weapons." [Sep 5, 2013]

    3. There is still an inherent risk - those weapons have never been used in warfare, and if they don't work effectively, the chemicals would be released.
      Given that would mean the death of the Russian personnel on the base, this would have presented a difficult political problem for the US.

    4. If there was ever a situation where we had unadulterated "right" on our side, it was this. The possible exposure of some complicit Russian troops is a non-factor. This was the time to exercise moral courage. We failed, in that regard.

    5. "Given that would mean the death of the Russian personnel on the base, this would have presented a difficult political problem for the US."

      This is as big a case of moral cowardice combined with absolute oblivious ignorance as I have seen in some time. Completely contrary to your claim, leaving chemical weapons intact and in the hands of a madman who has demonstrated a repeated willingness to use them is a far larger "difficult political problem" for the US. Your statement also utterly fails to recognize that it is the Russians who have the "difficult political problem" since they are the ones WHO CERTIFIED AND SWORE THAT ALL THE CHEMICAL WEAPONS HAD BEEN DESTROYED. They are the ones who knew about the existence of additional chemical weapons, took no action, and likely were directly involved in the chemical weapon attack.

      Russia is the one with the "difficult political problem"! They've been caught lying on the international stage about chemical weapons, their credibility has dropped to zero (not that they had any), they're in bed with a madman, they're complicit in the use of chemical weapons, and they've been put in the position of having to politically defend Syria's use of chemical weapons. And you think the the US is the one with a "difficult political problem"???? Wow!

    6. Quote. There are numerous reports of US bombs designed specifically to destroy chemical and biological weapons. For example, from the Washington Times

      Having worked with the Anniston arsenal location those bombs cannot 100 percent destroy chemical weapons. In fact they are highly unreliable in munition destruction

      This is a case of actual fake uninformed news. BTW you will not find the reliability destruction rate in print. It's classified

    7. Accepting you claim of less than 100% destruction, for sake of discussion, it makes no difference. So what if a little escapes? If Syrian or Russian personnel are exposed, they deserve it. Any personnel associated with chemical weapon usage forfeits any consideration.

      Besides, neither Syrian nor Russian personnel can possibly be exposed because there are no chemical weapons in Syria. Remember that Russia guaranteed that all chemical weapons had been disposed of and Syria claims to have never used chemicals. If the Russians want to complain about possible exposure then they'll have to admit on the world stage that they lied about the comprehensive disposal of the weapons. Of course, they're not going to do that so they won't complain about exposed troops.

      Your comment is interesting and would be more so if had some data to reference. Regardless, it does not change any of the conclusions

    8. A little bit escape. Remember the nerve agent test in the 1960's. Unless we have accurate reliable info you can't destroy the munitions

      For the sake of discussion a little bit of nerve agent goes s looking way. Image 1000 dead civilians in nearby town dead because we released the nerve agent. Today social media is the world's public opinion. In short we cannot afford a similar mishap with people


    9. "Image 1000 dead civilians in nearby town "

      That's not the way it works. Chemical weapons are pretty localized in the effect. Shayrat airfield is around 15 miles southeast of Homs. Barring an incredibly fluke set of environtal conditions, the chemicals would not disperse that far.

      Here's small tidbit of data that demonstrates that. The chemical weapon has, as best I can tell, targeted at around the center of the town of Homs. If the chemical could spread 15 miles, the entire town would have wiped out. The reported casualty figures indicate around 70 dead.

      As best I can tell, there would have been no possibility of release from airfield impacting the nearby town.

    10. More info from the US Center for Disease Control (CDC) ...

      "Because it evaporates so quickly, sarin presents an immediate but short-lived threat."

      This reinforces the fact that Sarin cannot cause an effect 15 miles away.

    11. I am disagreeing with you Com. During the first gulf war a large stockpile of both VX and Sarin was destroyed in the desert south of Baghdad. My friends were in the fox vehicle that was contaminated. The munitions containing those chemicals were destroyed with the high explosive but guess what. That plume of chemicals lead to a low level dosage scattered across hundreds of miles and contaminated approximately 100,000 soldiers and marines in the desert. Whether your dead or not the chemicals still have long term damage to not only local populaces but also those no where near them. There is even a story about the long term damage to our own troops and its been linked to gulf war syndrome.


      You can't destroy those munitions, it just isn't possible. Those chemicals stored at the site were probably both sarin and VX nerve agent. Sarin is the less dangerous of the two but still they have been known to produce and store both in Syria.

    12. There's a few problems with your comment.

      First, I've studied the Desert Storm conflict and I don't remember any wholesale destruction of chemical weapons south of Baghdad

      Second, based on your description, I seriously doubt that the attempted destruction involved bombs/explosive designed to incinerate chemicals. It sounds like they just used regular explosive.

      Third, as you, yourself, note, it produced a low level presence insufficient to produce any immediate harm. I'm sure we would have heard about 100,000 soldies dying.

      Fourth, the Gulf War Syndrome has not definitively been linked to any specific causal agent. At one point, the theory was that the affected troops were exposed to the byproducts of the burning oil wells. So, unless you have some new reference that I'm unaware of and that links GWS to chemical weapons, I can't credit your claims with any authority.

      Fifth, your claim is not something that you actually witnessed. Instead, it's a second hand retelling (or third or 100th) which again confers little credibility to the claim.

      Sixth, for several years I worked on an airborne spilled chemical tracking system in industry. We could predict the chemical plume footprints and concentrations with distance from the release. The not-unsurprising find was that in the vast majority of cases, simple dilution of the chemical plume with surrounding air produced concentrations too low to have any harmful effects. Yes, there is the possibility of a freak weather phenomenon (ducting,for example) but the odds of that kind of freak occurrence at exactly the moment of release is vanishingly small.

      FYI, any claim that cannot be supported with data is suspect. That doesn't mean that it's wrong - just that we can't prove it's right. I make it a point to hold people to standards of data and logic. On the other hand, I have no problem with a commenter speculating about something as long as they make it clear that it is speculative rather than factual.

      So, I'm highly doubtful about the bulk of your comment given that I've never heard that and you seem unable to produce a direct reference.

      I'll leave this series of comments up because it's interesting but I'm cautioning readers to treat it with extreme skepticism.

      Why don't you do a bit of research and see if you can find any report that documents your claims. I'd love to see it and I'll gladly change my mind if you can produce some supporting documentation.

    13. I will start by asking you for a citation concerning bombs that magically destroy chemical weapons in bunkers otherwise I will be highly skeptical

      Second there has been plenty of documentation converting CM in the zone of action. https://www.cia.gov/library/reports/general-reports-1/gulfwar/cwagents/



      And as to your experience remember when model days doesn't always translate to actual release. Does Bhopal remind you of a release not contained and was manufactured here in the US but the India's plant had the release. Both had the same safety measures. That release date was real accurate wasn't it

      As for the fox vehicle contamination it was real and videoed then the vehicle was destroyed because of the contamination. They cut that poor soldier out of his uniform.

      As for the skepticism remark I'll test the magic CM disposal bomb to the same test. Non existent without a reference

      CW were used in desert Storm. Just not in large quantities near our troops. And as the same effects would be felt today if those weapons were hit with high explosives. They wouldn't be destroyed only damaged and spread into the surrounding countryside

    14. Normally, I would ignore this type of comment. I don't work for you and have no need to prove my statements. You can accept them and learn something or go find something else to do with your time. Further, I don't respond well to laziness by readers. I am not your personal research service. Did you even make an attempt to find documentation yourself? It's readily available with a cursory search.

      In this case, however, the opportunity to demonstrate your failing is worth the small effort on my part. So, here is one of many links on the subject:

      Chemical Destroying Bombs

      You're welcome. Do your own homework from now on.

    15. I was only pointing out that relying on press releases about bomb effectiveness will hamlet a decision making process. Without actually testing these weapons like the CW reducing bomb leads to unintended consequences.

      Meaning that relying on this weapon to reduce the enemies CW stockpiles could be like relying on the LCS for surface warfare. In the press it sounds great in war they don't actually work

    16. Who's relying on press releases? Did you read the reference I linked for you? The BLU-119/B and the PAW are actual bombs. They had to go through standard military development and testing cycles. Here's yet another reference that describes the bomb and its development in a bit more detail, since you appear unwilling to do your own searching:


      You tried to make a point about potential scattering of chemicals - a valid concern - but failed to do your research, opted not to accept mine, and, basically, called me a liar. I've provided data showing you were wrong. Own up, learn a lesson, and move on.

      More generally, I'm serious about this blog. I do my research. When I state something, it's factual. I offer my data and opinions as an educational service to readers. If you don't believe me, either do your own research (and you'll find I'm right) or go somewhere else. I'm not going to make a habit of proving myself because you don't want to believe me and you're too lazy to do your own research. This is harsh, I know, but you need a wake up call. Now, start doing your homework and make your comments worthy of inclusion in a blog that is a cut above.

  10. 1. Assad is still the barrier/containment to keep 'ISIS and anarchy' in check, before and after civilian gassing.

    2. We still do $80-90B annual business with the Sunni Gulf states. Act(s) of customer appreciation to earn customer loyalty is always in play. I'm not saying that's the case here, just common sense in general. Also, couple weeks ago, rumor has it we accidentally bombed hundred(s) or so sunni civilians..maybe this is a makeup for that..

    3. After USSR and for 20+ year, we owned the mess in ME solely (maybe then we had the luxury to chose between staying/leaving). But now that Russia (and increasingly China) footprint is in, we can't leave now (for some geopolitical calculation known to experts.)

    4. maybe the sight of dead babies did tug on POTUS and his clan, and he reacted. Given the 5-ring circus acts coming out of DC everyday, this retaliatory strike actually seemed adult-like (thus far, measured and contained).

    Lastly, Putin's Russia is no USSR. It is feather weight (compared to the US) in real life, but seemed like amplified Monster in American psyche. (and it seemed vise versa is also in play: the US is still the Mike Tyson, with an eggshell sensitivity..This one I don't get)

  11. Part of the reason the chemical weapons weren't targeted or the airfield completely flattened was that there are Russian troops stationed there.
    Putin has massively complicated America's ability to exert force in Syria against Assad's military by stationing troops across various military bases in the country. This was deliberate.
    Interestingly, this wasn't the case back in 2011 when Obama initially proposed directly intervening to overthrow Assad (and was rebuffed in no uncertain terms by both republicans and democrats in Congress and strong domestic opposition - including Trump ironically).
    If Obama had actually been in a position to act, it would have been a much more opportune moment to strike and wouldn't have had nearly as many complications.

  12. CNO stating Assad is a madman would not dispute, but relative to ISIS taking control of Syria would be an order of magnitude worse. Putin sees Assad offering stability and would not provoke another war in the Russian Federation as in Chenchen dirty war of '99 to 2009 in which it is said up to 50,000 died in the fight with the Islamic Int. Brigade. Secondly it enables Russia to establish a presence and a seat at the table in the world power/money game due to region's oil reserves.

    The US totally destabilized Iraq when bringing down another madman Saddam Hussein at the cost of hundreds of thousands lives, cost of trillions of $s to the US taxpayer and set up the conditions for ISIS, an unmitigated disaster. US did not learn any lessons and then assisted taking down another madman Gaddafi of Libya, now left with non-state and base of Islamic fundamentalists and slavery.

    So the US/Western policy taking out these mad/strongmen has as been said been an unmitigated disaster and understand Russia backing Assad even if he is a murderer and criminal by western standards, but the alternative is worse.

    As Mattis has been saying we should not be sidetracked and concentrate on defeating ISIS and their allies. The US/West cannot impose our standards on the middle east as much as we would like to, all that is possible is to try to contain worst excesses by token efforts as with the chemical weapons at the least cost, realpolotik.

    1. "So the US/Western policy taking out these mad/strongmen has as been said been an unmitigated disaster"

      No argument there! US geopolitical policy has been every bit the "unmitigated disaster" you claim.

      We consistently fail to understand that the Middle East is not Western civilization and cannot be effectively treated as such. It is a region of tribal identification and warlords and needs to be interacted with on that basis. If that means leaving what we would consider despicable people in charge then that is what we should do. What we can productively do is strictly regulate the extremes of their behavior, especially as they relate to impact on the US. You astutely point that out.

      As an example of regulating extreme behavior, Gaddafi was significantly reined in by our attack on him, personally, and he was much better behaved after that. Similarly, a single Tomahawk missile per day launched at Assad's most likely location until we either kill him or achieve a close enough near miss to make him modify his behavior would be productive exercise.

  13. Segway here...

    Prelude 1: Tomahawk
    Prelude 2: MOAB
    Prelude 3: gathering CSGs near Korean Peninsula

    Perhaps acts on 'Assad and Afghan-ISIS' are just messengers, the true audience is Kim3. (also, that must be some piece of chocolate cake)


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