Attack won’t weaken Assad, alter ISIS strategy
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.