Assessing chances of U.S. military operation in Syria
U.S. President's statement on Twitter on an upcoming missile strike emerged just ahead of his consultations with the Defense Secretary and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Thus, Donald Trump's message came against the lack of a specific action plan, calculations and risk assessment of the military campaign.
The departure of the U.S. aircraft carrier group headed by USS Harry Truman from the Norfolk base in Virginia on April 11 gives grounds to count on its arrival in the Mediterranean in no earlier than six days. Accordingly, the start of the group's deployment in the area of operation may begin on April 17. The calculation indicates an inadequate assessment of its pace by first deputy chief of the Main Operations Directorate of the Armed Forces General Staff of the Russian Federation, who believes that this will happen early May (obviously, the assessment was made in line with the estimated speed of the Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier). It is unlikely that, given the scale of the possible operation and the need for the air component, it will begin before the group arrives in the Mediterranean Sea. This may indicate that in the case of a full-scale operation (without intervention on land), it is unlikely to begin before April 20.
The departure of the U.S. aircraft carrier group headed by USS Harry Truman from the Norfolk base in Virginia on April 11 gives grounds to count on its arrival in the Mediterranean in no earlier than six days
The risks of a direct face-off between the U.S. forces and the Russian grouping deployed in Syria require consultations and consensus in the North Atlantic Council. Any possible attack on a warplane or a U.S. military vessel will automatically trigger Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty on Collective Security. This will require readiness of all Allies, and therefore rather difficult consultations, given the cautious policy of certain EU member states regarding direct confrontation with Russia.
At the same time, the false start, which Donald Trump's statements appear to be, can actually give a boost to more pressure on Russia in the economic sphere. The risk of engagement in a military confrontation with the Kremlin in Syria can make European partners resolute in applying tougher economic sanctions. In addition, the U.S. President's announcement allowed the U.S. intelligence to analyze the potential reaction of the Russian Federation to the attack, actions of its military command and control system.
Any possible attack on a warplane or a U.S. military vessel will automatically trigger Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty on Collective Security
Today, the entire decision-making system at the level of the Syrian military command depends on representatives of the Russian Ministry of Defense. According to our estimates, implementation of any military operations, including the use of chemical weapons, is coordinated with the Russian representatives in Syria. Thus, any further use of chemical weapons in Syria is directly linked to Russia's presence in the country and Russia's overall ability to maintain it beyond own borders.
It is likely that the sites where Syrian chemical weapons are stored mostly coincide with the locations where Russian units are based or deployed. According to our estimates, Syrian government forces have a certain stock of chemical weapons, which does not guarantee that they will be deprived of an ability to repeat chemical attacks in the event of destruction of weapons manufacturing sites. Thus, carrying out a U.S. military operation to guarantee the cessation of the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime is associated with high risk of a strike on Russian units. In this regard, only a limited on-target operation appears to be justified. Given the risks involved, it would make sense if
- The Pentagon has accurate data on the location of chemical weapons warehouses and they are not located at the sites where the Russian contingent is based or not reinforced by Russian units.
- The operation will be limited to a missile strike without the use of warplanes, (reducing the likelihood of losses given a multi-level Russian air defense system).
- At the same time, limiting the operation to a missile strike without the use of aircraft reduces its effectiveness, therefore it cannot ensure the suppression of all potential targets. This will make the operation a demonstration of strength without achieving strategic goals.
- In such a scenario, the expected result of limited missile attacks will not cover the present risks and will have, for the most part, only a political effect. At the same time, such scenario is more acceptable to the U.S. Administration in case they decide to go for a military action.
Anatolii Baronin is a director of Da Vinci analytical group