U.S. ratchets up its involvement in the Syrian Civil War, Russia disagrees with further US involvement
Civil war is nasty business. Syria has been embroiled in its own conflict for over six years now, although the United States has been involved in the conflict by “covertly advising” “moderate rebels” for several years. Last Friday President Trump stepped up the U.S.’s involvement in the conflict by targeting a Syrian Army airbase with 59 Tomahawk missiles. The strike was in response to allegations that Bashar al-Assad’s army had perpetrated a chemical attack on rebel held territory in the province of Idlib.
The missile strike was carried out by two navy destroyers in the region, and the cost of the missiles alone is just under $100 million. Of the 59 missiles fired, Russia has said that there was only evidence of 23 of them hitting the airbase, while the U.S. told news sources that the operation was a complete success. The next day, the airbase was being used by the Syrian Army to launch airstrikes against rebel positions in the region.
The validity of the chemical attack that precipitated the U.S. navy strike has recently been called into question by Assad and the Russians. While there is photographic evidence of some sort of chemically induced attack, it remains to be seen how and by who the attack was carried out for.
The U.S. rebel, Saudi, evaluation of the attack puts the blame entirely on Assad’s military forces, claiming that there was a strike carried out by the Syrian air force using sarin gas that killed just under 100 civilians in the area and has sent many more into hospitals in the region. On the other side, Russia, Assad and Iran have asked for concrete evidence that the Syrian air force actually carried out the attack and argue that there was a strike on a military site that was housing weapons used by opposition fighters, but when the strike hit instead of destroying conventional weapons it released chemical weapons that were being created by and for the rebel fighters in Syria.
It remains to be seen who is in the right. The speedy response of condemnation and later retaliation by the U.S. has been condemned by some and praised by others. While there has been no hard evidence other than the depressing images of dead children coming out of Syria, both sides claim to have evidence to support their respective narratives.
A few years ago, while Barrack Obama was still in office, there were similar allegations of chemical gas attacks on targets of dubious validity. Obama pushed for a strong reaction led by the U.S., not ruling out “boots on the ground” to fight both ISIS and Assad. As a result, the U.S. currently has one foot in the door and one out in the cold per se, with “advisors” on the ground assisting with air strikes and the training of “moderate” rebel forces. Friday’s cruise missile strike has severely ratcheted up the U.S.’s position in Syria.
Regardless of the perpetrator, any chemical warfare strike should be condemned internationally and the culprit targeted. Although the chemical attack was immediately attributed to Assad’s forces and the Syrian Army, there was no upside for that attack to have been ordered at this point in the war. Syrian forces are in the strongest position they have had since the start of the war, so the motive for the Assad regime to order a chemical attack is murky at best.
The lasting results of Friday’s strikes will be seen in the coming days. Russia and Iran have condemned them, but supporters of both the U.S. and the rebels in Syria have championed there effectiveness and importance. While the long term effects of Friday’s strike could be positive or negative, it has only increased animosity between Russia and the United States. Russian President, Vladimir Putin, has canceled a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, in direct response to the missile strike on Friday. Hopefully tensions will simmer down, but it does not look likely.