The Syrian army has the ability to fend off waves of Tomahawks launched by the Americans—Parts 1 & 2
On Thursday night, two US Navy warships fired 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at a Syrian airbase after President Bashar al-Assad’s regime used chemical weapons earlier this week against civilians. For months, Donald Trump has espoused a hands-off approach to intervening in the Middle Eastern country’s six-year-long civil war, yet it took just 24 hours for the president to reverse course and launch America’s first military action against the Syrian government. But in the context of Trump’s affinity for cable news where the images of the chemical strike were discussed and shown, the attack on Syria starts to make a bit more sense.
It started earlier this week, when the small northern town of Khan Sheikhou was hit with chemical strikes, specifically with sarin gas. Sarin is a nerve agent, in the same category as VX gas and other deadly chemicals banned by international law. It kills by blocking the signals passing between your muscles and your brain. Once a muscle seizes, it cannot relax, leading to violent spasms and, most commonly, asphyxiation due to a locked diaphragm. Assad’s attack killed more than 80 people, at least 27 of them young children, and injured some 500 Syrians of all ages.
“It’s the worst thing you can imagine. It’s a horrible way to die,” says Beth Van Schaack, a human rights and war crimes specialist at Stanford’s Center for International Security & Cooperation. “That can’t help but touch a person.”
The images from the chemical strike filled newspapers and television coverage all week. Trump, whose fealty to cable news is well known, surely saw them. On Wednesday, he condemned the attack. On Thursday, after the airstrike by the US, the president, speaking from Mar-Lago, revisited the imagery in his statement, saying, “Using a deadly nerve agent, Assad choked out the lives of helpless men, women, and children. It was a slow a brutal death for so many, even beautiful babies were cruelly murdered in this very barbaric attack. No child of god should ever suffer such horror.”
The Pentagon almost certainly formulated the attack plan well before this week. The US has maintained forces in the region for years, and Syria emerged as point of possible intervention during the Obama administration. But the attack underscores a key difference between the two presidents. Where Obama was deliberate to the point of inaction for several years, Trump upended his own stance within days. Set aside whether the airstrike was militarily expedient; that it happened at all underscores the malleability of Trump’s positions.
“I support stopping Assad’s atrocities,” former Trump presidential challenger Evan McMullin tweeted. “But it’s unnerving that Trump changed his position on striking Syria 180 degrees in only 24 hours.”
Yet Assad’s chemical strike forced Trump’s hands for other reasons too. He had long lambasted Obama for drawing a “red line” over chemical weapons and failing to follow through when Assad used them in 2013, and prominent Republicans have vocally supported intervention.
“The United States will no longer stand idly by as Assad, aided and abetted by Putin’s Russia, slaughters innocent Syrians with chemical weapons and barrel bombs,” senators Lindsey Graham and John McCain said in a statement Thursday night.
Just as media saturation could have provided motivation for the strike, it also may have informed how it was carried out. The US limited its attack to al-Sharyat airbase in western Syria, stressing that it was the source of this week’s chemical weapons attack. “The US intelligence community assesses that aircraft from Shayrat conducted the chemical weapons attack on April 4,” the Pentagon said in a statement. “The strike was intended to deter the regime from using chemical weapons again.”
For a president driven as much by narrative as by strategy, his move effectively serves both. It makes him look like a man of action, while limiting any potential reverberations by specifically striking Assad’s chemical arsenal. “I can’t imagine that Russia wants its allies/puppets to be engaging in chemical weapons attacks,” says Van Schaack. “The whole international community may be relieved that someone acted, and acted in a way that invokes a deterrent effect against further attacks.”
The message carries the added benefit of playing to both his base and, potentially, the despot for whom it was intended.
“As far as symbolism goes, we thought we were just in for another round of denunciations,” says Linda Robinson, an international policy analyst with the Rand Corporation. “But 59 Tomahawks is a very strong message.”
What wins the moment, though, doesn’t always benefit the long term—a lesson Trump has learned during his ongoing campaign of using bluster to win the day. Assad has for years used conventional weapons against civilians. What happens when he does so again? And how much escalation can the US stomach should Assad turn again to sarin, or chlorine gas? And that’s before you even consider whether Trump had the authority to order Thursday night’s strike in the first place.
“What was purpose of strike? How much did this cost? Was Assad a threat to US homeland? How does this achieve peace?” California Democratic representative Ted Lieu, a frequent Trump critic, said on Twitter. Republican senator Rand Paul echoed the complaint in a statement demanding that Trump seek congressional authorization.
The optimistic outlook is that the move will force the Trump administration to finally outline a coherent foreign policy.
“What they are going to have to reckon with is that words matter, and they are going to have to articulate what their approach is,” says Robinson. “We are still waiting on this administration’s policy toward Syria, and indeed a formal statement of its counter-ISIS policy, and both of those are really bound up in also what its Russia policy is.”
One might think 59 Tomahawk missiles might have firmed up those lines. Instead, it seems designed to have fleeting effect.
“I would not in any way attempt to extrapolate that to a change in our policy or posture relative to our military activities in Syria today” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in a statement. “There has been no change in that status.”
Additional reporting by Emily Dreyfuss.
The Naval Special Warfare Development Group, also known as Seal Team Six, is just one of the United States Navy teams testing out technology that would zap soldiers’ brains with electricity to boost their cognitive skills.
Not only has the Navy been using neuro-stimulation to try and enhance the mental and physical performance of its service members — they’ve also asked industry contractors to develop more cognitive-enhancement technologies, according to a report from the news site Military.com.
Former Defense Secretary Ash Carter said last July that the Department of Defense planned to test headsets made by tech company Halo Neuroscience, which he believed could enhance the combat skills of special operators. Halo Neuroscience also offers a civilian product, Halo Sport. The company claims their headsets pulse energy into the motor cortex, the area of the brain in charge of movement, thereby boosting focus, coordination, endurance, and strength. However, some research has shown this technique — transcranial direct-current stimulation (tDCS) — has no effect that is better than a placebo.
But that hasn’t discouraged the Pentagon from pushing forward with tDCS research and testing. “We plan on using that in mission enhancement,” Rear Adm. Tim Szymanski, commander of Naval Special Warfare Command, said at a military conference in February, in which he encouraged developers to dream up more brain-boosting tech. “The performance piece is really critical to the life of our operators.”
Syzmanski later told Military.com why he believed that tDCS could help create super soldiers. “In experiments, people who were watching these screens … their ability to concentrate would fall off in about 20 minutes,” Szymanski said. “But they did studies whereby a little bit of electrical stimulation was applied, and they were able to maintain the same peak performance for 20 hours.”
Since Carter’s announcement last summer, SEAL teams have been testing the technology. Capt. Jason Salata, a spokesman for Naval Special Warfare Command confirmed that volunteer groups were participating in a specific neuro-stimulation cognitive enhancement project, but would not say how many service members are involved. He also would not comment on specifics, but said, “early results show promising signs.”
According to Halo Neuroscience chief technology officer Brett Wingeier, their devices are being used at five military bases. Szymanski suggested the Navy is also interested in performance enhancing pharmaceutical supplements like blood testosterone.
The Saudi regime was quick to declare its “full support” for the American aggression on Syrian territory, which came after a campaign of incitement and broad media and misleading was the system within the choir promoters.
The official SPA news agency quoted a source as the “official” of the Foreign Ministry as saying that he supported “his regime” full of US military operations against military targets in Syria.
The source praised the decision of US President Donald Trump to launch this aggression, which he described as “brave”, thus exposing his conspiratorial role on Syria and its people and capabilities.
The head of the Israeli enemy government welcomes the US aggression against Syria
On the other hand, the head of the government of the Israeli enemy Benjamin Netanyahu said today “full support” of the American aggression on Syria.
“Israel fully supports US President Donald Trump’s decision to attack Syria,” Netanyahu said in a statement. “Trump has sent a strong message.”
The United States launched an attack on one of our air bases in the central region, where US President Donald Trump announced an order to launch a military strike on an air base in Syria, saying that this aggression is in the interests of vital American national security.
The American aggression comes less than 20 days after the Syrian Arab army confronted the aggression of four Israeli occupation aircraft on one of the military positions on the direction of Palmyra, where our air defenses dropped an aircraft inside the occupied territories, wounded others and forced the rest to flee.
The Israeli occupation entity intervenes more than once directly to support the terrorist organizations that are collapsing in front of the blows of the Syrian Arab Army and its allies, especially in the villages of Quneitra and the western Damascus countryside, as well as providing various kinds of support and arming to these organizations.
Erdogan’s regime joins the choir of the American aggression against Syria
In turn, the regime of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan joined one of the main supporters of terrorism in Syria and the region to the choir of the American aggression against Syria, saying that this aggression is a “positive step”.
For years, Erdoğan has turned Turkey into a headquarters and a transit point for terrorist organizations. He has provided various kinds of support to them, including Daqash and the Nasra Front, which is on the international terrorism list. He also bought stolen Syrian oil from the Da’ash organization, Which he sponsors and supports in the region to achieve his ambition and dreams in reviving the Ottoman Sultanate.
“Turkey is looking positively at the American strike on an air base in Syria,” Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Noman Kortulmush was quoted by Reuters as saying in an interview with Fox TV.
The Al-Saud regime was quick to declare its “full support” for the American aggression on the Syrian territory, which came after a campaign of mass media incitement and misleading the system was within the choir promoters in a position identical with the position of the Israeli occupation entity a few hours after the American aggression on an air base In the central region in a new emphasis on the compatibility of these two systems in the aggression against Syria and its people.
A military source said that one of our air bases in the central region was hit by a missile attack by the United States, which led to casualties.
Donald Trump has warned that the US will take unilateral action to eliminate the nuclear threat from North Korea unless China increases pressure on the regime in Pyongyang.
In an interview with the Financial Times, the US president said he would discuss the growing threat from Kim Jong Un’s nuclear programme with Xi Jinping when he hosts the Chinese president at his Florida resort this week, in their first meeting.
“China has great influence over North Korea. And China will either decide to help us with North Korea, or they won’t,” Mr Trump said in the Oval Office. “If they do, that will be very good for China, and if they don’t, it won’t be good for anyone.”
But he made clear that he would deal with North Korea with or without China’s help. Asked if he would consider a “grand bargain” — where China pressures Pyongyang in exchange for a guarantee that the US would later remove troops from the Korean peninsula — Mr Trump said: “Well if China is not going to solve North Korea, we will. That is all I am telling you.”
The White House views North Korea as the most imminent threat to the US after Barack Obama warned his successor about the progress Pyongyang had made developing long-range missiles and nuclear weapons.
“There is a real possibility that North Korea will be able to hit the US with a nuclear-armed missile by the end of the first Trump term,” KT McFarland, the deputy White House national security adviser, told the FT in a separate interview.
While Mr Trump is increasingly worried about North Korea, his view on Europe has moderated. He stressed that Brexit would be a “great deal for [the] UK and . . . really good for the European Union” but said he was less convinced that other countries would follow the UK out of the EU. “I think that it [the centre] is really holding. I think they have done a better job since Brexit.”
Ahead of the US-China summit, Mr Trump raised hopes that he would reach some kind of deal with Mr Xi, despite heavy criticism about China’s trade surplus and exchange rate policy. “I have great respect for him. I have great respect for China. I would not be at all surprised if we did something that would be very dramatic and good for both countries and I hope so.”
The National Security Council has completed a review of options on North Korea that Mr Trump ordered after his inauguration, according to two people familiar with the review. One of those people said the review had been accelerated to have the options ready for the Trump-Xi summit.
Mr Trump said it was “totally” possible for the US to tackle North Korea without China. Asked if that meant dealing with Pyongyang one on one, he said: “I don’t have to say any more. Totally.”
Barring a pre-emptive strike on North Korea — which the administration will not rule out since all options are on the table — many experts believe the US needs Chinese help as Beijing has the most sway over Pyongyang. But Washington could consider alternatives, ranging from more effective sanctions to various kinds of more controversial covert action.
“What President Trump is trying to do here is to press the Chinese hard by warning them what comes next if they don’t help or join with the US to deal with this problem,” said Dennis Wilder, a former CIA China analyst who later served as the top White House Asia aide to George W Bush.
“What he is signalling is that the next step is to begin secondary sanctions, which we have avoided. They are sanctions on Chinese companies and individuals who deal with North Korea,” he added.
Mr Wilder said Mr Trump could also pressure China not to use North Korean labour, which is a source of revenue for Pyongyang. “Then you get to the other options, which are much more controversial, like taking covert action against North Korea, for example using cyber.”
The mounting concerns about North Korea were underscored recently when Rex Tillerson, the US secretary of state, said during a visit to Asia that the previous US “policy of strategic patience has ended”.
China has also raised alarms about the increasingly dangerous situation on the Korean peninsula. Last month, Wang Yi, the Chinese foreign minister, called on North Korea to halt its missile and nuclear programmes, while urging the US to stop military exercises that anger Pyongyang. “The two sides are like two accelerating trains coming towards each other with neither side willing to give way. The question is, are the two sides really ready for a head-on collision?” Mr Wang said.
Follow Demetri Sevastopulo on Twitter: @dimi
BEIRUT — The United States fired cruise missiles into central Syria early Friday morning, striking an Assad government-controlled air base where U.S. officials say the Syrian military launched a deadly chemical attack that killed dozens of civilians earlier this week. Syrian state TV called the attack an ‘‘aggression’’ that lead to ‘‘losses.’’
About 60 U.S. Tomahawk missiles hit the Shayrat air base, southeast of Homs, a small installation with two runways, where aircraft often take off to bomb targets in northern and central Syria. The U.S. missiles hit at 3:45 a.m. Friday morning and targeted the base’s airstrips, hangars, control tower and ammunition areas, U.S. officials said.
A military official quoted on Syrian TV said an air base in central Syria was hit early Friday, causing material damage. Another statement, also attributed to an unnamed official, referred to ‘‘losses.’’ The officials did not elaborate.
Talal Barazi, the governor of Homs province, where the targeted air base is located, told The Associated Press by phone that most of the strikes appeared to target the province in central Syria. He also said the strikes are meant to ‘‘support the terrorists on the ground.’’
A Syrian opposition group, the Syrian Coalition, welcomed the U.S. attack, saying it puts an end to an age of ‘‘impunity’’ and should be just the beginning.
The bombing represents President Donald Trump’s most dramatic military order since taking office. The Obama administration threatened attacking Assad’s forces for previous chemical weapons attacks, but never followed through. Trump called on ‘‘all civilized nations’’ to join the U.S. in seeking an end to the carnage in Syria.
President Bashar Assad’s government had been under mounting international pressure after the chemical attack in northern Syria, with even key ally Russia saying its support is not unconditional and the U.S. launching a barrage of cruise missiles at a government-controlled air base in Syria.
Turkey, meanwhile, said samples from victims of Tuesday’s attack, which killed more than 80 people in the town of Khan Sheikhoun, indicate they were exposed to sarin, a highly toxic nerve agent.
Syria rejected the accusations, and Moscow had warned against apportioning blame until an investigation has been carried out.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in an interview with The Associated Press on Thursday that ‘‘unconditional support is not possible in this current world.’’
But he added that ‘‘it is not correct to say that Moscow can convince Mr. Assad to do whatever is wanted in Moscow. This is totally wrong.’’
Russia has provided military support for the Syrian government since September 2015, turning the balance of power in Assad’s favor. Moscow has used its veto power at the Security Council on several occasions since the civil war began six years ago to prevent sanctions against Damascus.
Syria maintains it didn’t use chemical weapons, blaming opposition fighters for stockpiling the chemicals. Russia’s Defense Ministry said the toxic agents were released when a Syrian airstrike hit a rebel chemical weapons arsenal and munitions factory on the eastern outskirts of Khan Sheikhoun.
‘‘I stress, once again, that the Syrian Arab Army did not and will not use such weapons even against the terrorists who are targeting our people,’’ Syria’s Foreign Minister Walid Moallem told reporters in Damascus.
Trump had said the attack crossed ‘‘many, many lines,’’ and put the blame squarely on Assad’s forces. Speaking Thursday on Air Force One, Trump said the attack ‘‘shouldn’t have happened, and it shouldn’t be allowed to happen.’’
Earlier, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had said he hopes Trump will take military action, Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency quoted him as saying.
Erdogan said Turkey would be prepared to do ‘‘whatever falls on us’’ to support possible military action, the news agency reported.
U.S. officials had said they hoped for a vote late Thursday night on a U.N. Security Council resolution that would condemn the chemical attack, but with council members still negotiating the text into the evening, the British Mission’s political coordinator Stephen Hickey tweeted the vote wouldn’t take place until later.
At the U.N., the United States, which currently holds the presidency of the Security Council, it drafted a resolution along with Britain and France that condemns the use of chemical weapons, particularly in the attack on Khan Sheikhoun, ‘‘in the strongest terms.’’
Russia, which has warned against fixing blame for the attack until an investigation is completed, objected to key provisions in the resolution and negotiations have been underway to try to bridge the differences.
Britain’s deputy ambassador Peter Wilson said ‘‘what we want is a unanimous resolution … and we want to see this done soon.’’
France’s U.N. Ambassador Francois Delattre indicated difficulty in reaching agreement on a resolution.
After the attack, hospitals around Khan Sheikhoun were overwhelmed, and paramedics sent victims to medical facilities across rebel-held areas in northern Syria, as well as to Turkey. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group put the death toll at 86.
The attack happened in Syria’s Idlib province about 100 kilometers (60 miles) from the Turkish border, and the Turkish government — a close ally of Syria’s rebels — set up a decontamination center at a border crossing in Hatay province, where the victims were treated initially.
Turkish officials said nearly 60 victims of the attack were brought to Turkey for treatment and three of them died.
Victims showed signs of nerve gas exposure, including suffocation, foaming at the mouth, convulsions, constricted pupils and involuntary defecation, the World Health Organization and Doctors Without Borders said. Paramedics used fire hoses to wash the chemicals from the bodies of victims.
Visuals from the scene were reminiscent of a 2013 nerve gas attack on the suburbs of Damascus that left hundreds dead.
In Turkey, Anadolu and the private DHA news agencies on Thursday quoted Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag as saying ‘‘it was determined after the autopsy that a chemical weapon was used.’’
The Turkish Health Ministry said later that ‘‘according to the results of the first analysis, there were findings suggesting that the patients were exposed to chemical substance (sarin).’’
WHO experts took part in the autopsies in the Turkish city of Adana late Wednesday, Turkish media reported.
The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said it has ‘‘initiated contact’’ with Syrian authorities and its Technical Secretariat has been collecting and analyzing information about the allegations. ‘‘This is an ongoing investigation,’’ it said.
The area of Khan Sheikhoun is difficult to access, and as more time passes since the attack, it will be increasingly difficult to determine exactly what happened.
Ian Phillips contributed from Moscow. Associated Press writers Albert Aji in Damascus and Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed.