At­tack won’t weaken As­sad, al­ter ISIS strat­egy

USA TODAY Weekend Extra - - FRONT PAGE - Jim Michaels

The strikes on Syria’s chem­i­cal war­fare fa­cil­i­ties Satur­day will not weaken Bashar As­sad’s bru­tal grip on power, which has been ex­pand­ing in re­cent years, or change the U.S. strat­egy of de­feat­ing the Is­lamic State, U.S. of­fi­cials and an­a­lysts said.

The U.S. strike was not de­signed to “de­pose” As­sad or draw the U.S. into the Syr­ian civil war, Dana White, the Pen­tagon spokes­woman said Satur­day. “This op­er­a­tion does not rep­re­sent a change in U.S. pol­icy,” she said.

But U.S. of­fi­cials said the op­er­a­tion was ef­fec­tive in send­ing a mes­sage to the As­sad regime about the use of

chem­i­cal weapons and dam­aged the na­tion’s chem­i­cal ca­pa­bil­i­ties. “It was a suc­cess­ful mis­sion,” White said.

De­fense Sec­re­tary Jim Mat­tis said this year’s strike was more dam­ag­ing than a sim­i­lar at­tack the U.S. mil­i­tary con­ducted last year and will have a last­ing im­pact on the regime’s abil­ity to pro­duce chem­i­cal weapons.

“They will lose years of re­search and de­vel­op­ment data, spe­cial­ized equip­ment and ex­pen­sive chem­i­cal weapons pre­cur­sors,” Mat­tis said.

Satur­day’s strike, con­ducted with French and British forces, em­ployed 105 mis­siles and other weapons at three chem­i­cal weapons fa­cil­i­ties. Last year’s strike in­volved 59 mis­siles.

“This has dealt them a very se­ri­ous blow,” Marine Lt. Gen. Ken­neth McKen­zie said.

But the chem­i­cal weapons ca­pa­bil­i­ties, while ef­fec­tive in ter­ror­iz­ing civil­ians, were not crit­i­cal to the regime’s re­cent mil­i­tary suc­cesses.

As­sad’s regime has been steadily ex­pand­ing con­trol over the coun­try in the past cou­ple of years, re­ly­ing heav­ily on Iran-linked ground forces and Rus­sian air­craft to re­gain ter­ri­tory from rebels. As­sad’s own mil­i­tary has been de­pleted by seven years of civil war.

U.S. of­fi­cials say Satur­day’s at­tack was de­signed to avoid col­laps­ing As­sad’s regime, which could pro­vide an op­por­tu­nity for the Is­lamic State or other rad­i­cal groups in­volved in the civil war, or draw re­sponses from Rus­sia or Iran, which are sup­port­ing the As­sad regime.

“We specif­i­cally iden­ti­fied these tar­gets to mit­i­gate the risk of Rus­sian forces be­ing in­volved,” said Marine Gen. Joseph Dun­ford, chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The U.S. also warned Rus­sia about the airspace that the U.S. mil­i­tary would be us­ing through a mil­i­tary com­mu­ni­ca­tions chan­nel it has been uti­liz­ing to avoid mishaps.

Nei­ther Rus­sia nor Iran would have a mo­tive for at­tempt­ing to re­tal­i­ate, as their ob­jec­tive is to sup­port As­sad, and his regime was not threat­ened by the strike.

The U.S. mil­i­tary has about 2,000 troops in Syria, mostly in the north­east of the coun­try, where they are sup­port­ing a lo­cal al­liance of mili­tias bat­tling the Is­lamic State. The U.S. is not sup­port­ing any of the rebel groups fight­ing the As­sad regime.

“This is more about his use of chem­i­cal weapons than it is the out­come of the war,” An­drew Tabler, an an­a­lyst at the Wash­ing­ton In­sti­tute for Near East Pol­icy, said ear­lier this week.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.