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The American-French-British coalition strikes three Syrian sites (v5)

(B2) The Americans, British and French ensured this night (from Friday April 13 to Saturday April 14), around 1 am (Paris time*), a series of strikes against Syrian chemical installations. A reaction to the chemical attack on Douma (La Ghouta) on April 7th. The announcement was made public in Washington, then confirmed in Paris and London.

Telephone meetings have intensified in recent days. The window of opportunity was narrow: between the time needed for military preparation and the coordination of forces between the three countries, as well as political consultation and diplomatic negotiation, on the one hand, and the arrival of inspectors from the OPCW, on the other hand, the time was short, before another phase opened: that of the verification a posteriori.

Targets against chemical production sites

It was the clandestine arsenal of the regime that was targeted. The first target was thus “ a scientific research center in the greater Damascus region said US Army Chief of Staff General Joe Dunford in a briefing held around 3 a.m. (Paris time). The center of Barzah/Barzeh, not far from Douma, is a center for research, development, production and testing of chemical and biological agents (ESRB). The second target was a chemical weapons storage facility, a former missile base, located 15 miles (24 km) from Homs. “We assessed this to be the primary location of Syrian sarin and precursor production equipment ". The third target was a bunker that covered two types of structures: a chemical weapons storage facility as well as a major command post ».

Targeted sites (source: DOD US)

Coordinated naval and air assets

The strikes were carried out in a coordinated manner by naval and air assets, in " close synchronization between the various allies, as the French Minister of Defense, Florence Parly, clarified on Saturday morning (April 14). On the American side, two B1 bombers (coming from the Qatar base), three ships based in the Red Sea, the Mediterranean Sea and the Persian Gulf — the Ticonderoga class missile launcher USS Monterrey (CG-61), and two American destroyers of the Arleigh Burke class theUSS Laboon (DDG-58) and theUSS Higgins (DDG-76) — as well as a submarine (the USS John Warner) were mobilized.

On the French side, six ships were engaged: three multi-mission frigates (FREMM) were deployed in the Mediterranean (Aquitaine, Auvergne and Languedoc), escorted by an anti-aircraft defense frigate, an anti-submarine frigate (FASM) and a supply ship. In the air, five Rafale fighter planes departed from several airbases » on French territory (in particular the BA 113 of Saint-Dizier-Robinson) had " reaches the Syrian coast ”, supported by four Mirage 2000-5 (for the escort), six tanker planes and two Awacs aerial surveillance planes. While four Tornado GR4 aircraft from the Royal Air Force, starting from the base of Akrotiri (in Cyprus) did the same.

(source: US Defense)

More than a hundred shots (105 missiles)

The use of cruise missiles whether from planes (air-to-ground) or from ships (sea-to-ground) has made it possible to avoid entering Syrian territory. According to the American general, the amount of ammunition (bombs and missiles) used was " more than twice those used in last year's minting (NB: the USA had fired 58 Tomahawk missiles at the time). More exactly 105 missiles were fired, specifies the Pentagon.

A distribution of targets

Each country had been given a specific target. The Americans, with 57 Tomahawk sea-to-surface missiles and 17 JASSM air-to-surface missiles, targeted the research center. The French targeted the third with 7 Scalp air-to-surface missiles. The second target — the Homs storage site — was targeted simultaneously by the three countries: 9 American Tomahawks, 8 British air-to-surface missiles Storm Shadow (the other name for the Scalp-EG missile), 3 naval cruise missiles MdCNet and 2 French Scalp missiles. A total of 103 missiles were fired (NB: two are missing compared to the overall figure indicated by the Pentagon).

A double technical first

This operation represents a double first in terms of military technique. This is, in fact, the first operational use of MdCN missiles (known as Naval Scalp), manufactured by MBDA from a FREMM frigate. It was also the first real use for the American stealth missiles JASSM (Joint air to surface stand-off missiles) in its elongated version. For the French pilots, coming from France, the performance was more human: " ten hours of flight, at night, in combat condition " A " successful performance thanks to five in-flight refuelings underlined the French Minister of Defense, Florence Parly.

100% success

« All weapons hit their targets near the indicated time said Marine General Kenneth F. McKenzie, Director of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff. " None of the missiles involved in this operation were successfully hit by Syrian air defenses he said, denying the Syrian army's claims that several of the missiles had been shot down.

No Russian defense intervention

As for the Russian defence, it did not intervene. " We have no indication that Russian air defenses were employed. The Pentagon then released "before and after" images for each of the targeted targets, showing the precise "cleaning" of each area. Images to be taken in the conditional...

Effect of the strike on the Barzah / Barzeh research center (source: US Defense)
Effect of the strike on the Him Shinshar storage site (source: US Defense)
Effect of the strike on Him Shinshar's bunker (source: US Defense)

No losses on the coalition side

All planes returned safely. " There are no allied losses “says one from the side of the Pentagon. " All the French planes - Rafale, Mirage, AWACS, tankers - landed well at the end of their mission last night “confirmed the French Minister of the Armed Forces Florence Parly. " All vessels are in a safe zone free from retaliatory measures ».

Avoid civilian and... Russian casualties

The strike planners have “ made great efforts to avoid civilian and foreign casualties said US Secretary of Defense James Mattis. The strike was " also planned to mitigate the risk to Russian forces supporting the Assad regime added General Joe Dunford.

Russians warned

It seems that this strike was carried out if not in consultation, but at least with information from Moscow. " We made sure that the Russians were warned in advance said French Minister Florence Parly. NB: which would explain the rather ritualistic reaction of Russia... for the moment.

No Russian and even Syrian casualties

No casualties from the raids were reported, even on the Syrian side. Which is surprising for this type of site, especially the research center. If this information is confirmed, it could mean that the Syrians have been warned and vacated the premises.

Limit chemical contamination

« Very careful scientific analysis was done to determine where to target the Storm Shadows to maximize the destruction of chemical stockpiles and minimize the risk of contaminating the surrounding area. “indicates, for its part, the British Ministry of Defence. " The affected facility is located some distance from any known concentration of civilian habitation, further reducing this risk ».

Evaluation in progress

He is still " too early to assess effectiveness of the raids, we are told on the American side, even if the reports of Syrian anti-aircraft actions " have been done. The analysis is in progress. But already in London, the strikes are believed to have been successful. " Meticulous target planning resulted in a successful attack ».

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde, with RM in Paris)

* Attack carried out at 19 p.m. Washington, 2 a.m. London

Updated 14.4 - 10 a.m., 14 p.m., 19 p.m. on the detail of the air and maritime means used, the number of weapons used per target, and the effectiveness of the shots, correction on the number of targets (three and not four as indicated in an early version). The 15.5 on the effects of the strike. 16.4 with Florence Parly's remarks on flight hours. 20.4 on civilian casualties.

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).