The Syrian variant: On the brink of war

US Navy Hits IS Targets

Photo credit: US Navy via ABACAPRESS.COM

Strike at Sharyat

The Tomahawk strike launched over Sharyat Airfield in Syria last Friday signified a marked escalation of the US involvement in the war-torn country.

Never before had US assets been directly used in a military confrontation in Syria, though America has long been indirectly involved in the conflict, conducting a proxy war with Russia.

At 8:40 p.m., Eastern Daylight Time (4:40 a.m. Zulu Time), April 7, two US Navy Destroyers -USS Porter (DDG-78) and USS Ross (DDG-71)- launched a coordinated surgical strike against Sharyat Airfield.

The target was chosen because it is the suspected jump point for the aircraft that had deployed chemical weapons on the civilian population in the town of Khan Sheikhoun three days prior.

The US naval assets rained a barrage of 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles down on the twin-runway airfield, hitting storage depots, air defence sites, and other facilities. A number of aircraft were also destroyed in the attack, and six personnel were reported to have been killed.

The Tomahawk cruise missile has a range of over 600nmi, thus enabling long-reaching strike capability its operator. However, the weapon requires a large amount of fuel to propel it to its target, which significantly reduces the size of its warhead. With a price tag of $1.5m apiece, a single Tomahawk’s destructive power is low in relation to its cost. To compensate for this weakness, operators normally launch a barrage of missiles to maximize the strike’s effectiveness.

Aftermath

Satellite imagery released shortly after the attack revealed heavy damage to key installations at Sharyat.

Crucially however, the actual runways did not sustain heavy damage, and remained operational. Some observers have questioned the effectiveness of the strike.

Russian authorities swiftly moved to criticize the US involvement, stating that the United States had ‘crossed a red line’, and also questioning the legality of the strike.

Both countries have been engaged in a thinly veiled confrontation in the Middle East country ever since the Syrian Civil War began almost six years ago. The Russian government has propped up the Syrian army, providing air assets and other equipment. Together with Syria, the Russian air force has access to a dozen airfields dotted around the country, so the assault on Sharyat has done relatively little to reduce overall combat effectiveness.

Furthermore, a Russian naval asset, the Admiral Grigorovich frigate, has now been stationed in the Mediterranean.

Admiral Grigorovich is a force to be reckoned with. The vessel is equipped with Kalibr-NK anti-ship and coastal missiles, Shtil-1 defensive missile system, a 100mm artillery cannon, anti-aircraft equipment, and torpedoes. It also carries an air wing for close ground combat support in the form of Ka-27 or Ka-31 attack helicopters.

The presence of such mighty asset in the Mediterranean will surely become a cause forconcern to the US Navy and its allies.

Change of heart

The Obama administration pledged to remove Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from power, deeming in fact a ‘priority’. In the end, such pledge went unfulfilled, and al-Assad remains in control.Before the chemical attack on Khan Sheikhoun, the Trump administration had not particular interest in ousting al-Assad from power. According to the Trump security team, fighting ISIS was their main concern.

But Trump has had a change of heart it seems, as he has now turned his attention to the Syrian conflict. He referred to the events at Khan Sheikhoun as a ‘heinous’ crime, and few would dispute that this is true. 89 civilians -30 children among these- died a horrific, nerve-agent induced death.

Few would also dispute that al-Assad was the man behind the orders to carry out such atrocity. It is not the first time that the Syrian President orders chemical strikes on his own people, after all. Back in 2013, over a thousand people died after being exposed to the deadly nerve agent sarin in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta. In the aftermath of such grievous crime against humanity, the US considered direct military intervention in the region, but the Obama Administration relented after Assad agreed to hand over Syria’s stockpiles of chemical weapons. Nevertheless, chemical attacks have continued regularly since.

Nevertheless, the Trump administration now finds itself in a perilous position. The president may very well intend to oust Bashar al-Assad from power, but doing so would be in direct conflict with previous and current foreign policies for two reasons: One, Russia backs the Syrian Government 100%, and Trump and many of his close supporters are known to have ties with the Russian President Vladimir Putin. It is widely suspected that Russia interfered in the last US election, possibly affecting its outcome in the favor of Donald Trump. Also, a number of businessmen associated with the president have murky financial interests over in Russia. Trump has in fact operated under a cloud of suspicion because of the Russian connections ever since he rose to the top job.

And two, the rebel army conducting operations against Bashar al-Assad is known to include ISIS- associated factions, which poses a great moral quandary to Trump and its advisors.

This situation is reminiscent of a CIA-backed Osama Bin Laden back in Afghanistan, during the Soviet war in the country. Though the claims were never officially substantiated, it is widely accepted that the US fell prey to its own creation, after the CIA trained and armed rebel factions fighting against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Later on, these same factions would turn against the US and would use the weapons provided to wage war against American interest elsewhere.

On the brink of war

The strike on Sharyat Airfield has had a profoundly destabilizing effect on the precarious balance of power in Syria.

Such openly direct intervention of the US is likely to inflame the already strained relations between the US and Russia. China is also a keen supporter of both Russia and Syria, and if war were to break out, the US would find itself in a perilous situation indeed.

The Chinese Army is a very powerful force indeed. Should armed conflict be sparked in Syria, North Korea may decide to initiate military operations and move against South Korea, for instance. China also backs North Korean interests, so it may lend support to Kim Jong Un’s regime. At the same time, the US would be forced to defend its South Korean allies and enter into an armed confrontation against China and North Korea. Concurrently, Russia may forge an alliance with these largely communist countries, forcing the US to wage war in two fronts.

Should this scenario develop as postulated here, other countries may seize the chance and take sides, sparking a global conflict.

Massacre at Khan Sheikhoun: The Day the World Ended

Syria The Survivors

For many Syrian families, the world ended shortly after sunrise on April 4, 2017. That morning, man-made death would grip their throats and drain their lives with cruel efficiency.

Air raids over Syrian airspace have been commonplace for the last six years, as the nation’s air force -supported by Russian aircraft- drop ordnance on their own people on a regular basis.

Civil war has been raging for more than half a decade. Up to 400,000 people have died, been injured, or fled the war-torn country that its president, Bashar al Assad, is determine to destroy.

But the air raid on Tuesday morning was to be different from the rest. Fighter bomber jets of yet undetermined allegiance flew over the rebel-held area of Khan Sheikhoun, in the Idlib region.

Idlib is one of the last bastions held by rebel factions that stand against Assad’s tyranny. After a long and bloody struggle in Aleppo, rebels are losing ground. And Assad is determined to annihilate anyone opposed to his terror regime. He says that the only way is ‘victory.’

On April 4, Khan Sheikhoun residents woke up to the sound of jet engines roaring overhead. Up in the skies, a pilot presumably requested permission to drop the weapon. Soon, ordnance began its final descent on the civilian target.

Witness reported hearing the weapon hit the town, but strangely, no explosion followed. The bomb carried a far deadlier cargo than high explosives.

Many families living in the immediate surroundings of the drop site stood no chance. Poison gas crept in, turning people’s beds into their tombs. Men, women, and children began suffocating as soon as the chemicals took hold of their bodies. For these residents, it was all over in minutes. Those living further away would suffer far more.

The weapon’s deadly cargo began spreading death around Khan Sheikhoun. Victims fell to the ground, twitching, convulsing, and gasping for air. Children were the worst sight. Their small bodies succumbed to the poison quicker, their little eyes wide open in sheer terror as they could no longer find air to breathe.

The deadly agent soon began evaporating, its potency gradually diminishing as the chemical broke down in the atmosphere. Over 70 people were left dead in its wake, many children among these. Their deaths were not easy. Suffocation due to acute respiratory distress ended their lives, their mouths foaming as lungs produce fluid in a desperate attempt to flush out the deadly chemicals. But all in vain.

In the wake of such atrocity, the world issues its deepest ‘consternation’. Again.

Assad has used chemical weapons in the past. Back in 2013, over a thousand people died after being exposed to the deadly nerve agent sarin in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta. In the aftermath of such grievous crime against humanity, the US considered direct military intervention in the region, but the Obama Administration relented after Assad agreed to hand over Syria’s stockpiles of chemical weapons. Nevertheless, chemical attacks have continued regularly since.

Both the US and Russia have repeatedly issued promises to ‘punish’ Syria if chemical weapons are used on civilians. Yet, neither nation has honoured such vow, and according to the Trump Administration, removing Assad from power is no longer a stated aim on its policy, unlike Obama’s.

Assad’s regime has never shied away from killing its own people to legitimize its own hold on power. Ever since the insurgency began back in 2011, Assad and his Russian allies have used all weapons at his disposal to quell the uprising against him. The city of Aleppo was systematically razed to the ground to flush out rebel groups, for instance.

Now, the world bears witness yet again to the atrocities committed by one power-driven man. Tuesday’s events bear a striking resemblance to the actions of another dictator, Saddam Hussein, who mass-murdered almost 5,000 Kurdish people in the town of Halabja, Irak, on March 16, 1988. At Saddam’s behest, warplanes dropped a multitude of chemical weaponry on the Kurds that day, leading to an indiscriminate massacre of untold proportions.

Now, Assad’s actions have stunned the civilized world once again. Governments are likely to talk tough and behave meekly, as military intervention in the region by either the US or any other Western power would further de-stabilize the region, and likely lead to a global conflict.

In the wake of Tuesday’s abhorrent atrocity, between 70 and 100 people (many of them children, let’s not forget) died in horrible, nightmarish circumstances. This has happened before, and it’s likely to happen again, as Assad’s regime knows that Russia is on his side.

The US and Russia have been fighting a proxy war in the region for years. Any overt military intervention would trigger a Russian response, which could lead to total war.

Yet, at the same time, the US’ disengagement might lead to the rise of further extremism, as new groups seek to take advantage of this relative impunity.

Khan Sheikhoun will now become another shameful black mark on humanity’s history book, a book which is already full of dark stains.

Death toll rises to 70 after deadly gas attack in Syria -Assad’s government denies any intervention

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The death toll after Tuesday morning’s deadly gas attack in Syria has risen to at least 80, many women and children among these. The scene was described by local doctors as ‘nightmarish’ and ‘chaotic.’

And Bashar al Assad’s government are denying any responsibility for the act, blaming a “leak” on a “rebel” factory instead.

According to the official version, Syrian aircraft struck a target near the Khan Sheikhoun. The facility hit was purportedly a warehouse containing toxic substances, which leaked and caused the deaths of dozens of men, women, and children in the nearby town.

However, international observers refute this claim, stating instead that the Syrian army acted with intent, and deployed a chemical weapon on a civilian area.

The gas, suspected to be sarin or a similar organophosphate agent, acted quickly and killed as many as 70 people in the immediate vicinity, injuring up to 400 more as the chemical dispersed.

According to World Health Organisation observers, victims displayed symptoms consistent with nerve agent poisoning, including acute dyspnea, miosis ( constriction of the pupils), and convulsions. The dead bodies also showed no sign of external injury, which seems to corroborate the chemical agent theory.

US President Donald Trump referred to the act as ‘heinous’ and quickly blamed his predecessor for the lack or resolute action in Syria.

The attack is one of the worst atrocities in Syria’s long running civil war, and follows a similar event in August 21, 2013, when Syrian forces deployed sarin-loaded rockets in Ghouta, a rebel-held suburb of Damascus. Up to 1,800 people, including many children, perished.

Suspected chemical attack in Syria kills dozens

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A suspected gas attack in Syria has reportedly killed dozens and injured scores more.

The attack took place in the townland of Khan Sheikhoun, in Idlib province.

The weapons were deployed via airstrike, hitting the town on Tuesday morning. At least 70 people died, including at least 10 children, and many more were injured.

The compound used has not yet been confirmed, but local doctors say that the symptoms displayed by the victims match those caused by sarin.

Sarin is a potent nerve agent that induces death in one to ten minutes if inhaled at a lethal dose. The chemical inhibits the enzyme acetylcholinesterase, causing uncontrolled muscle spasming leading to death by asphyxiation.

If confirmed, this would be deadliest chemical attack in Syria in many years.

In total, about 500 people suffered the consequences of the attack, which has been condemned by international observers.

Syrian authorities denied the use of chemical weapons, instead saying that ‘rebels are to blame.’

Khan Sheikhoun is largely rebel-held, and it is regularly targeted by airstrikes by the Russian-backed Syrian military.

Over 400,000 people have been killed since the beginning of the civil war in Syria.

Analysts warn of Third World War fears over escalating tensions between US and Russia in Syria

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The US and Russia have been fighting a proxy war in Syria for some time, using their military might to aid rebel militia and the Syrian Army, respectively.

Not since the bloody struggle in Afghanistan back in the 1980s has the world witnessed such indirect military confrontation between the old foes. Rebel factions on the ground in Syria are receiving CIA-sanctioned shipments of weapons, particularly TOW anti-tank missiles. President Bashar al- Assad, on the other side, has full military co-operation from Russian aircraft and special forces personnel.

The rebels had some initial successes, using the TOW weapon systems to devastating effect against Russian armor, and for a time it seemed that President al-Assad’s grip on power would wane. But then the Russian air force began operations in the area, pounding the rebels from the air. Rebel militia, lacking any anti-aircraft weaponry, were soon beaten back.

The US-supplied equipment had an unintended consequence, also.

The rising Nusra Front faction used American-made armament to gain footholds across northern Syria. This in turn handed the Russians the justification for their intervention. Under the pretense of ‘fighting terrorism’, Russian aircraft began an indiscriminate bombing campaign that has reduced the city of Aleppo to a heap of ruins, and claimed thousands of lives.

The situation has reached a stalemate, and now the US has officially severed ties with Russia over the heavy airstrikes in Syria in recent days, which many international observers have referred to as ‘war crimes.’ Russian aircraft and cruise missiles have targeted five hospitals around Aleppo, for instance, thus depriving the rebel-held areas of vital medical aid.

Some analysts are also expressing concerns that a more direct military intervention by US forces in Syria could trigger World War Three.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is deliberately provoking an US response through its intervention in the Syrian conflict, and with the rebels on the back foot, Putin has now achieved stronger leverage in Syria, and in the volatile Middle East as a whole.

Yet, if the provocation continues with the intention of eliciting a direct military response, US forces may bypass their proxy allies and launch a limited-scale assault against the Syrian army. This action may trigger a counter-offensive by Russian units, acting in defence of their Syrian allies.
The likely outcome of this scenario would be an all out war between the US and Russia, first on the Middle East theater of war. The hostilities may then spread globally.

A recent ill-fated attempt to broker a ceasefire in the region came to an abrupt halt after a convoy ferrying aid into
besieged areas of Aleppo was attacked by Russian warplanes. Over 20 people were killed, and 18 out of 31 trucks were destroyed. This action signaled the continuation of the fighting, with Russian and Syrian Army leading the charge, carrying out savage bombardment on Aleppo.

The US has now broken off talks with Russia over the situation in Syria, and recalled its negotiators back from Geneva. There is a feeling of steady deterioration in US-Russian relations, to a degree not seen since the Cold War era.

Heavy ordnance dropped on rebel-held areas of Aleppo after ceasefire comes to fiery end

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The war-torn city of Aleppo in Syria has come under heavy bombardment once again, after a fragile ceasefire collapsed.

Five aircraft, said to belong to the Russian air force, flew over the city yesterday, dropping heavy weapons on rebel-held areas. Local reporters said that cluster munition and incendiary ordnance were used during the latest attack.

The city of Aleppo has largely been under rebel control since 2012. Forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al Assad have maintained a constant siege ever since.

The latest ceasefire effort all but ended after a convoy ferrying humanitarian aid into the besieged city was bombed on Monday, killing 20 people.