But the military options to force Assad out of power remain at least as unpalatable as they were in 2013by Justin Bronk / April 7, 2017 / Leave a comment
Last night’s US Navy cruise missile bombardment of the Syrian Air Force’s Shayrat airfield near the western city of Homs was, on the face of it, an immediate retaliatory strike against the squadron responsible for dropping chemical weapons—including the nerve agent Sarin—on civilians at Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib province. Fifty-nine BGM-109 Tomahawk Land Attack Cruise Missiles (TLAMs) were fired from two US Navy warships in the Eastern Mediterranean and are said to have targeted aircraft, hangers, fuel dumps, munitions stockpiles and radar installations at Shayrat. However, the effectiveness of this attack beyond pure symbolism is highly questionable.
Russia has previously used Shayrat as a forward operating base for helicopter gunships conducting missions alongside the Syrian Army, and has large number of specialists of various sorts embedded within the Syrian military. This meant that in order to avoid any possibility of inadvertently killing Russian military personnel in this large scale cruise missile strike, the US Military had to give the Russian command chain in Syria sufficient warning to evacuate personnel, critical equipment and serviceable aircraft that they might have had at Shayrat. Since Russia is closely allied with the Assad regime, it is almost inconceivable that this warning would not have been passed on to the Syrian Air Force—giving the latter time to evacuate its own serviceable aircraft, key mobile equipment and personnel from the base before the Tomahawks hit. Therefore, the US Navy has most likely expended over $100m in cruise missiles to bombard a mostly empty forward airbase. Granted, the Syrian Air Force will not have had time to remove everything of value, and the destruction of the airbase as a viable operating location until repairs can be affected will certainly be an operational blow to the regime in the Homs area. However, it is far from a paralysing strike and certainly will not be sufficient to force a major policy shift by Bashar al-Assad in the gruelling civil war.