It's been less than 12 hours since the United States, together with its French and British allies, launched a major series of standoff strikes against sites connected to the Syrian government's chemical weapons arsenal. Our unique marathon coverage detailed these events moment-by-moment. The Pentagon has now provided additional information in a more comprehensive briefing.
Here are the major details from the brief:
- Pentagon chief spokesperson Dana White insisted that "this operation does not represent a change in US policy" and was not an attempt to unseat Assad or become involved in the Syrian Civil War.
- It was a response to the Assad regime’s “illegal tactics” in continuing to use chemical weapons and reflected a moral imperative to intervene.
- U.S. Marine Corps Lieutenant General Kenneth McKenzie, the Director of the Joint Staff, said the Syrians had been unable to have any “material interference” in the operation and all the missiles reached their targets.
- McKenzie said there had been no indication of a military response from "actors" within Syria, but that American troops in the country remained ready to defend themselves.
- He described the mission, which was coordinated so that the 105 total standoff weapons all hit their targets around 4 AM local time in Syria, as “precise, overwhelming, effective."
- The operation “significantly crippled” Syria’s chemical weapons capabilities and despite reports of evacuations of some production equipment and other materiel, some fixtures were likely too large to move to another, safe location.
- 76 missiles struck the Barzah Research Center in Damascus, including 57 Tomahawk Land Attack Cruise Missiles (TLAM) and 19 Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile-Extended Range (JASSM-ER) air-launched cruise missiles.
- 22 missiles impacted the chemical weapon storage facility west of Homs, including nine TLAMs - all from U.S. ships - eight Storm Shadow air-launched cruise missiles from UK aircraft, three Missile de Croisière Naval (MdCN) cruise missiles from French frigates, and two SCALP air-launched cruise missiles from French aircraft.
- Seven French SCALP missiles hit the associated bunker complex near the second target.
- The Laboon and Monterey engaged targets from the Red Sea, Higgins fired missiles from the North Arabian Gulf, and John Warner was in the Mediterranean Sea.
- In total, Monterey launched 30 TLAMs, Higgins launched 23, Laboon launched seven, and John Warner launched six.
- The French Aquitaine-class frigate Languedoc also took part in the operation from the Mediterranean.
- Air assets operated from bases throughout the region included US Air Force B-1B bombers, which fired all 19 JASSM-ER missiles, escorted by Air Force fighter jets.
- UK Tornado GR4 jet combat aircraft and French Rafale and Mirage 2000 multi-role fighter jets also took part. The UK and France committed unspecified escorting fighter jets.
- American defensive counter air packages were still flying sorties at the time of the briefing.
- Lieutenant General McKenzie said the Syrians attempted to shoot down incoming missiles with 40 surface-to-air missiles using a "ballistic trajectory" and "without guidance."
- He added that those missiles “had to come down somewhere” and posed a danger to innocent bystanders.
- McKenzie said the loss of the facilities would be significant for Assad, but declined to offer a more granular description about the residual status of the Syrian government's chemical capabilities.
- He did acknowledge that there still could be Syrian government chemical weapons attacks in the future and that there were additional chemical weapons related sites that the U.S. and its partners did not hit.
- The general declined to elaborate on the other alternatives the U.S. military presented to the Trump administration, which ultimately decided to pursue this particular strike package.
- Dana White stressed that the operation was different from the strike on Syria’s Shayrat Air Base and focused on neutering Assad’s chemical weapons production capability rather than delivery platforms.
- Dana White declined repeatedly to elaborate on any evidence the United States had that the Syrian government had conducted the chemical weapon attack in Douma and what agents it used and said the U.S. government was still assessing the situation.
- She did say the U.S. government remained "confident" that there had been a chemical weapon attack and the Syrian government was responsible.
- McKenzie said that the U.S. military conducted a detailed targeting process, including "plume analysis" and other tasks, in order to mitigate the possible release of chemical agents from the strikes on any of the three sites.
- He would not say if the U.S. military had conducted any post-attack air sampling, only that the post-strike assessments were coming through "a variety of means.
- The deconfliction line with the Russians remains active, but McKenzie would not say if there had been any discussions via that communications line regarding the strikes specifically.
- Dana White put the onus on Assad, as well as his Russian and Iranian benefactors, in whether or not the United States would feel compelled to act again in response to another chemical weapon attack.
- She said the Russian-sponsored Sochi peace plan "has failed" and that the United States remained committed to the United Nations-backed Geneva peace process to end the country's civil war.
- The U.S. government also noted that there had been a noted uptick in Russian-enabled disinformation regarding the situation in Syria in the aftermath of the strikes.
There were many additional things we posted about in our marathon coverage last night that either wasn't discussed in this brief or will add a lot of color to what was said during it. I would highly suggest you run through it to get fully up to speed on the larger picture, one not manicured by the DoD.
Beyond the facts presented, there were many questions as to the legitimacy of the targets and the qualifications for the strike considering so many have died from previous chlorine attacks. The back and forth with the press was quite interesting. The media does not seem as in love with this strike as it was with the last one. Watch the entire presser here:
We will update this post with more information as it comes available, but we are saving our analysis for another post, and there is a lot to talk discuss, to say the least. This operation has huge implications and takeaways on tactical, strategic, and broader geopolitical levels.
Update: 11:40am EST—
A Pentagon spokesperson had told Defense News that F-22 stealth fighters, a common sight over Syria, did not escort the B-1B bombers as they made their way toward the target area. Instead, a force package of fourth generation fighters and EA-6B Prowlers did provide physical and electronic warfare defenses for the bombers.
The aging Prowlers have left service with the U.S. Navy and the only such aircraft in the region are those assigned to the Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force-Crisis Response-Central Command (SPMAGTF-CR-CC), which has forces throughout the Middle East. The unit's air component, which has included F/A-18C/D Hornet fighter jets, AV-8B Harrier jump jets, and MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotors in the past, was understood to be situated at Ahmed Al Jaber Air Base in Kuwait as of 2015. There are separate reports that more recent EA-6B deployments went to Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar.
This could very well be the last large force employment combat use for the EA-6B, which the Marine Corps is set to retire completely in 2019. It'll be sad to see those planes go, but what a great and historic send off this is and they may have been the single type of aircraft providing dedicated electronic warfare support during the mission.
Update: 12:00pm EST—
Independent satellite imagery of the target areas from before and after the strikes is becoming to emerge online and shows significant damage to the sites, especially the Barzah Research Center, which has effectively ceased to exist.
Update: 12:15pm EST—
At an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council on April 14, 2018, Ambassadors from the United States, the United Kingdom, and France sparred with their Russian counterpart over the legitimacy of the strikes. The four countries, as well as China, are the only permanent members of the international body.
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said the Trump Administration was "locked and loaded" to respond to any future Syrian government use of chemical weapons, while France's François Delattre noted that his country had warned that the chemical weapon attack in Douma would not go unanswered. He added that the U.N. Charter was "not designed to protect criminals," referring to Syria's dictator Bashar Al Assad.
Russia's Vasily Nebenzya, not surprisingly, decried the entire operation as "international hooliganism." Prior to the strikes, the Russian government and media outlets in that country advanced a number of unfounded conspiracy theories about the events in Douma, with the most recent being that the United Kingdom, in cooperation with Assad's opponents in Syria, fabricated the entire incident.
At the end of the meeting, Russia requested a vote on a resolution condemning the strikes. China and Bolivia were the only other Council members to vote in favor of the proposal. The United States, United Kingdom, France, and five other members voted against it, while the remaining four representatives abstained.
Update: 2:10pm EST—
Senior Trump Administration officials are now saying that they have a high degree of confidence that the Syrian government employed a mixture of both Chlorine and Sarin in the attack on Douma. This appears to be based on both intelligence and open source information from individuals and non-governmental groups on the ground.
In addition, the same reiterated that Assad's regime does likely continue to possess some amount of chemical weapons and related infrastructure, which it could employ in future attacks. This is in line with Lieutenant General McKenzie's caveats during the Pentagon press briefing earlier on April 14, 2018.
Update: 4:55pm EST—
The Pentagon has released additional footage relating to the strike, including an uncommon periscope view from the USS John Warner as the submarine launched one of its six TLAMs.
Update: 5:30pm EST—
It appears that Israel has taken the opportunity of the American-led strikes against Assad to launch another punitive attack against Iran and its proxies in the country. Details remain scarce, but there were reports of a number of large explosions at an Iranian-managed facility near the city of Aleppo that is also home to Hezbollah fighters and other Iranian-supported militias.
This would be the second Israeli strike in Syria within a week. On April 8, 2018, Israel reportedly struck the T4 Air Base in Homs, which Iran had been operating from in cooperation with Syrian forces, in the immediate aftermath of the Douma chemical weapons attack.
It's not clear whether or not those two events were necessarily related. Israel has repeatedly made clear that it sees Iran strengthening its military posture in Syria as unacceptable and has conducted a number of strikes in the past 18 months against that countries forces, as well as Hezbollah.
Earlier in April 2018, the Israeli government disclosed that an Iranian drone it had shot down in February 2018 was armed and appeared to be attempting to make an attack on Israeli soil. That incident touched off a major Israeli response into Syria, where the unmanned aircraft took off from, resulting in an equally significant response from Syrian air defense forces, resulting in the loss of one of Israel's F-16I Sufa multi-role fighter jets.
The United States did reportedly alert Israel of the impending strikes against Assad and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a public statement afterward in support of the operation.
Contact the author: Tyler@thedrive.com