Mattis’s Top Worry On Syrian Strike Is “Keeping It From Escalating Out Of Control”

Secretary of Defense James Mattis sat before the House Armed Services Committee today. During the hearing, Representative Nikki Tsongas of Massachusetts asked a number of questions regarding Syria, including how strikes against the Assad regime could impact the mission overall. Although he was only willing to say so much due to operational concerns, Mattis was quite frank with his reply as to what worries him the most about such an operation. 

The retired general turned Trump administration cabinet official noted two major concerns. First is a tactical concern that the strikes could harm civilians which would be totally counter-productive to what they are intended to do, let alone to the U.S. mission’s overall goals in the county. Second is an ominous strategic concern we at The War Zone have also voiced repeatedly, that the strikes could be the catalyst that ignites a much broader conflict with Russia. Mattis told Tsongas:

 “On a strategic level, it’s how do we keep this from escalating out of control, uh, if you get my drift on that.”

You can watch the entire hearing here, the part mentioned above occurs beginning at around the 41 minute mark.

Mattis also called the attack inexcusable and said he hopes inspectors will be allowed at the site in the coming week, but notes that those inspectors won’t be able to tell who launched the attack, just what type of gas was used. 

Waiting for more conclusive information surrounding the use of chemical weapons in Douma is something that UK Prime Minister Theresa May also seems to be waiting for before she makes the decision to participate in a military operation against the Assad regime or not. But just after Mattis ended his testimony, news broke that blood and urine samples taken in Douma at the site of the attack did indeed contain both chlorine and some type of nerve agent. France has also claimed that it has proof that the Assad regime executed the attack.

It’s unclear how these developments will impact any timetable for what will likely be a series of strikes. After boasting that American missiles will soon be heading towards Syria yesterday morning, President Trump has taken a much more muted tone as to where he stands on even deciding whether to strike or not. 

Mattis also repeatedly implied that the decision to strike Syria still hasn’t been made, although all of this could very well be an effort to regain some element of surprise after the President’s outbursts yesterday. There are also reports that the White House is looking at eight targets, including two airfields, a chemical weapons facility, and a research station for its attack plan. 

Currently, it is 10:30pm in Damascus, the skies are relatively clear, and the moon is 14% illuminated. Tomorrow it drops to 8%, then to just 3% on Saturday and weather looks clear in the coming days. Having no moon is ideal for putting certain assets to work, namely the B-2 bomber. Tomahawk cruise missiles are generally unaffected by weather conditions and fly low enough that the moon’s illumination state is not much of a factor.  

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Tyler Rogoway


Tyler’s passion is the study of military technology, strategy, and foreign policy and he has fostered a dominant voice on those topics in the defense media space. He was the creator of the hugely popular defense site Foxtrot Alpha before developing The War Zone.