USS Arleigh Burke launches Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles today.
Firstly lets get a couple of matters out of the way. In an earlier article I pointed out how using F-18s from carriers is a useless way of conducting close air support (CAS) and that A-10 Warthogs were the tool for the job. The USA obviously listened to me because they are now sending this asset to the area. It is the perfect tool for the job.
Next, the USA has now conducted nearly 200 air strikes over Iraq. Let’s look at what the targets are, from a USA press release about yesterday’s attacks there: “ two ISIL Humvees, an ISIL armed vehicle and an ISIL fighting position southwest of Kirkuk”. This is pathetic and the Islamic State must be laughing their heads off. A million dollars to destroy a light truck. When IS have 80,000 men. All this does is to help their recruitment.
Now to Syria. USA are saying this was a combined action involving “the Kingdom of Bahrain, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates”. This is what is known as marketing. This is to show Sunni solidarity and bears no relationship to what happened on the ground. The main strike was 47 Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles (TLAMs) launched from USS Arleigh Burke and USS Philippine Sea operating from international waters in the Red Sea and North Arabian Gulf. TLAMs cost $1.6 million each, so the US defence manufacturers are rubbing their hand together. Especially as they have just had bumper orders from Israel to replace the munitions used to destroy Gaza. 3 of these Sunni countries put aircraft up, two Gulf state put up 4 aircraft each and another one 3 aircraft. Jordan took advantage of the situation to sort out some cross border squabbles.
Target organisations were obviously IS, but also the Islamist al Nusra Front, the Jaish al-Mojahdeen and also the shadowy terrorist Khorasan, who recruit Westerners for suicide attacks against airliners and who apparently had an imminent plot. In fact all four targeted groups use Western recruits. The al Nusra HQ in Idlib was blown up, as were several IS locations in Ar-Raqqah (the IS centre of operations). The USA says they hit “ISIL fighters, training compounds, headquarters and command and control facilities, storage facilities, a finance center, supply trucks and armed vehicles”. In other words anything their drones indicated might be suspicious. Still very low value targets. But it looks like they got lucky and killed Muhsin al-Fadhli, the leader of Khorasan.
On the face of it the strike was illegal under international law. Syria did not give permission and there was no UN resolution. Not that international law counts for much when Putin is invading his neighbors and shooting down an airliner. The reality is that Syria knew all about the attacks in advance. We know this for three reasons. Firstly they didn’t deploy their considerable air defences against the attacks, secondly because Syrian state TV said they had been told, thirdly because IS were tipped off and deserted Ar-Raqqah before that attack, leaving the USA to blow up civilians.
The USA are admitting, in their press release, to targeting IS and Khorasan, but are not mentioning the al Nusra Front and the Jaish al-Mojahdeen, which we know, from people on the ground, were targeted. In fact early reports seem to indicate that al Nusra and civilians (as usual) were the main casualties, with one famous al Nusra sniper killed. It will be interesting when we learn more about what happened to Khorasan.
So what does it mean? Firstly with current assets in theatre there is little that USA can do about ISIS. They can just make very expensive big bangs. Secondly that they still have a huge shortfall of IS intelligence. Thirdly that they are not going to touch Assad until they can get the Free Syrian Army (FSA) up to speed. Fourthly that USA is doing its very best to foster local engagement and co-operation. Fifthly that the USA is going after the enemies of the FSA. Sixthly this is exactly what IS want, the USA forced into a long drawn out conflict it has no stomach or political will for. Seventh it looks like Khorasan was a major target, presumably because the USA have far more intelligence about them than they do about IS.
The extent of USA’s problems can be seen in that they did nothing about the biggest current problem in Syria. And that is IS attacking Kurdish towns in the North, forcing tens of thousands of refugees into Turkey.
Over Syria just now the USA would possibly do best to arm their drones, fly them 24/7 with Assad’s connivance and take out targets of opportunity. Eventually they might get lucky and hit something worthwhile.