Summary: US and Allied Strikes in Syria, April 14th 2018
14th April, Syria
US assets supported by French and British aircraft and ballistic missiles targeted a series of military facilities across Syria in response to an alleged chemical weapons attack on civilians in Duma, East Damascus. The strikes, which started at approximately 4am and involved the firing of approximately 105 missiles targeted sites believed to be involved in the Duma chemical attack as well as other military sites. The vast majority of the strikes were conducted by US naval assets stationed in the Eastern Mediterranean, with French airbases in the region and a RAF base in support adding to the attacks. US B1-B bombers are also reported to have been involved, and are believed to have been deployed from Al Udeid Air Base. This article aims to provide a summary of the targets which were hit during the 14th April which were believed to be involved in the chemical weapons attacks on Duma and previous chemical attacks.
Mezzeh Military Airbase – Mezzeh military airbase, located in the south west of Damascus was targeted by an unknown number of ballistic missiles. Numerous videos and photos appeared online claiming to show the attacks; however basic open source techniques such as reverse image searching showed that many of these were recycled from previous attacks. The type of defences at the airfield is not clear, but after the attacks, S-200 missiles were allegedly seen at the airfield in working order. Syrian Buk missile systems were also pictured with expended missiles, but US sources claimed that no missiles were shot down. It is not clear how much damage was caused by the strikes on the airfield as Syrian aircraft were reported to have been shifted to other locations shortly before the attack.
Chemical Research Facility, Barzeh, Damascus – The chemical research facility in the Barzeh area of Damascus was believed to have been involved in the production of chemical weapons for the Syrian Government. Whilst Syrian Government forces have denied this claim (with some isolated claims saying that the facility researched antidotes to snake bites) the facility was destroyed by the both airstrikes and ballistic missiles. US sources claimed that 57 Tomahawk cruise missiles and 19 surface-to-air missile were fired at the complex. Satellite image released before and after the attack show that the 3 buildings pictured below were totally destroyed. Much like in other attacks, it appears that none of the missiles which targeted the facility were shot down.
Suspected Chemical Weapons Bunker Near Homs – Multiple missiles were launched at a chemical weapons depot to the west of Homs (pictured below.) 22 missiles were launched at targets in the area, RAF Tornado jets from RAF Akotiri, Cyprus, deployed 8 missiles during the strikes, US and French aircraft launched the remaining 14 using Tomahawks and SCALP missiles. Statements released from US, French and British military claimed that the site was used to deploy chemical weapons in previous attacks and contained stockpiles of mustard gas and sarin. Other similar targets were also hit in the area all believed to be stockpiles of chemical weapons.
Dumayr Airfield – US sources claimed that the Dumayr Airbase was used in the chemical weapons attack on Duma shortly before the attack. The Russian Mod claimed that all of the 12 missiles fired at the base were intercepted, whereas US military officials claimed that no missiles were intercepted. Regardless, it is likely that many of the most valuable Syrian aircraft were removed from the airbase before the attacks. Unconfirmed reports emerged shortly after the attack claiming that the airfield was operational again by Sunday.
Impact and Consequences
As expected Russia, Syria and Iran were quick to condemn the attacks. Whilst the strikes have by no means destroyed the integrity of the relationship between the Syrian Government, Russia and Iran, questions do appear to have been asked about the integrity of Russia as a military ally. These questions stem from the claims that Russian air defence did not play any part in the strikes and provided the Syrian Government forces with dated AA defences. Despite claims that multiple missiles were shot down, whether true or not, enough missiles reached their target to cause significant damage. Russian assistance was limited to allowing Syrian Government forces to be stationed alongside Russian units before the attacks, to avoid targeting.
Israel, along with Saudi Arabia and Turkey, expressed support for the attacks, claiming that the attacks were an appropriate response to the chemical weapons attacks. Israel was also suspected of carrying out additional airstrikes shortly after the initial US, French and British strikes. Explosions heard at an Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps position near Aleppo instigated the accusations that Israel had carried out secondary strikes. Further unconfirmed claims mentioned aircraft being heard in the area. Other sources claimed that the explosions heard were merely detonations of captured equipment at the base. Reports of airstrikes also began to circulate in the Deir Ezzor region, with explosions being reported at Syrian Government Positions in Abu Kamal, Deir Ezzor Military Base and al-Mayadin. No official comments were made about these suspected attacks, and at the time of writing this summary, the strikes remain unconfirmed.
The actual physical damage to Syrian Government forces is likely to be low as many of the highly valuable aircraft and equipment was moved to Russian facilities before the attack. US policy makers claimed that the attacks on chemical research facilities had put the Syrian chemical weapons programme back by a number of years, but these claims are not possible to confirm. The consequences of the attacks are likely to be broader. Firstly, the attacks showed the limitations of Syrian air defence systems, and could possibly place pressure on Russia to provide costly, more effective AA systems to the country. Secondly, the lack of Russian response may have gone some way to undermine the ‘soft power’ of Russia in the region, although this is difficult to measure. The Russian response is yet to be fully realised, but an alleged 2000% increase in Russian ‘trolls’ online has been reported after the strikes amidst fears that Russia may try to respond via cyber attacks. Russian lawmakers are also considering introducing legislation which would allow the Kremlin to ban or restrict certain US imported products.
In terms of the military situation on the ground in Syria, the situation appears to have changed very little as a result of the strikes, although whether or not changing the tactical situation in Syria was an objective is unlikely. Immediately after the strikes, SAA militias continued shelling rebel positions around Homs and Hama, and Syrian Government forces were able to capture villages during fighting west of Salamiyah. It should be noted that the public threat of force in Syria did serve to ground the majority of Syrian Government aircraft in the lead up to the attack, allowing easier movement for Syrian rebel forces in the period. However, infighting between various rebel groups continued, causing no significant Syrian Government battlefield losses to be recorded.