United States, France, And UK Begin Air Strikes On Syria (Updating Live)

The strikes come after days of conflicting reports, rapid diplomatic exchanges, and threats of retaliation from Russia. 

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Nearly a week after a horrific chemical weapons attack in the Syrian city of Douma, President Donald Trump, in cooperation with his French and British counterparts, has approved a set of strikes against targets associated with the regime of Bashar Al Assad. After days of speculation and public threats suggesting the operation could be imminent, the announcement of the strikes finally came in the evening April 14, 2018 with the President addressing the nation directly from the White House.

Trump said in his speech that the strikes were targeting the Syrian government's chemical weapons capabilities. More importantly, Trump said that the campaign against the Syrian regime of dictator Bashar Al Assad would continue until such time as it was no longer necessary in order to send a strong deterrent message. 

"The combined American, British and French response to these atrocities will integrate all instruments of our national power: military, economic and diplomatic," Trump said in his address. "We are prepared to sustain this response until the Syrian regime stops its use of prohibited chemical agents."

Trump also made a direct appeal to Russia to join the United States and its allies in pressuring Assad to abandon the use of chemical weapons. He made a less direct statement to Iran, the Syrian government's other principle benefactor. Both countries have already criticized the United States over its threats to intervene again against Assad's regime and have threatened to retaliate in kind.

"Russia must decide if it will continue down this dark path or if it will join with civilized nations as a force for stability and peace," he said. "Hopefully someday we'll get along with Russia and maybe even Iran, but maybe not."

Update: 6:21pm PST—

Explosions are being heard around Damascus. We also have good information that fighter aircraft were involved, likely launching air-launched cruise missiles from over the Eastern Mediterranean with the help of tanker support. French SCALP-EG, the UK's Storm Shadow, and the American JASSM are likely to have been used, as well as Tomahawk cruise missiles from U.S. and UK submarines, as well as from U.S. Navy destroyers. Those fighters may also be providing air cover for American and allied ships in the region. 

Here is the statement from Theresa May:

Update: 6:35pm PST—

Talk of B-1Bs out of al Udeid involved in these strikes, likely firing standoff weaponry from the east. Also, we must note, this sounds like a protracted air campaign. What we are seeing now is likely also a destruction of enemy air defenses (DEAD) campaign so that other aircraft, namely B-2s, can get in and do some heavy hitting against hardened targets.

It sounds like at least four major population centers in Syria are under attack. 

Update: 6:41pm PST—

Here's the first footage of RAF fighters recovering at RAF Cyprus following a wave of strikes. Once again, we believe the strikes are all standoff in nature at this time but that can change as Assad's air defense network is degraded.

Storm Shadow missiles from RAF GR4s confirmed by CNN.

CNN also reports Syria's 4th Division and Republican Guard being struck heavily. As predicted, this is a far larger campaign with a far wider scope target-wise than a year ago. Also regime targets are being struck as well according to multiple reports.

Syrian authorities say they have shot down 13 missiles. Obviously this is not worth much as they always shoot down something according to them.

Details are just beginning to emerge and this post will be updated in real time with all the information we can find.

Update: 6:52pm PST—

Hezbollah targets seem to be on the table for this operation and the Syrian PR response is already underway:

Update: 6:59pm PST—

Lot's of different local Syrian reports and others that Russia's airbase has gone active:

Amazingly, this commercial flight is crossing over northern Syria! Not where all the action is but surely a lot of US aircraft in that area.

Just as we have predicted:

It seems that some attacks or responses the attacks are occuring not too far from Russia's master airbase south of Latakia:

Some tracer fire seen in Damascus as well as smoke:

Update: 7:09pm PST—

Mattis and Dunford Pentagon brief: 

Only retaliatory action has been surface to air missile activity, no losses so far reported. The target set has been executed and follow-up strikes don't sound like they are imminent at this time. Russia was NOT warned of the attack but the targets were chosen to avoid Russian deaths. 

Dunford says the airspace was deconflicted with Russians via their hotline before the attack, yet at the same time says they did not warn Russia, which is laughable. They did not tell them about specific targets likely.

Mattis says again, that no additional attacks are planned, so that seems to conflict at least in abstract from Trump's statement.

Late yesterday Mattis said he received proof of the chemical attack. 

Dunford says that the deconfliction information given to the Russians may have gone unnoticed as unique by Russia's military. This is once again laughable. The United States does not operate in western Syria aside from unmanned aircraft operations. As such, Russia was noticed of this attack albeit not as to the targets that would be hit.

Mattis warns Russia will execute a massive disinformation campaign over the coming days. 

More key points from Mattis and Dunford: 

- Mattis says that the US has a "vital national security interest" in deterring chemical weapons use in Syria and anywhere else and President Trump conducted the strike under his Article 2 authority as Commander in Chief to defend American interests.
- Mattis: "Clearly the Assad regime did not get the message last year"
- Mattis described strike as separate from the campaign against ISIS and directed at the Syrian regime
- He called on "responsible nations" to denounce Assad and join with the U.S. government in pressuring Assad.
- Dunford: Strikes began at 9 PM and there are no reports of casualties among the strike force at this time.
- The targeting process included specific efforts to mitigate collateral damage and the possibility of threat to nearby communities from the release of chemical agents.
- One target was a scientific research facility in the Damascus area.
- A second target was a chemical weapons storage facility west of Homs, said to be the primary stockpile of Sarin and precursor chemicals.
- A third target was another chemical weapons storage facility and associated command post.
- Mattis: The US and its allies are prepared to respond to further CW use in the future, but said that this particular operation is a "one time shot.”
- Mattis: "I am confident the Syrian regime conducted a chemical attack on innocent people” involving at least one chemical agent, but that there might have been two. If this gas is chlorine alone, that would be strange as the U.S. has not responded to dozens of chlorine attacks over the last year.

Roughly double the number of munitions were supposedly used in this operation compared to last year according to Mattis and Dunford.

Update: 7:35pm PST—

NATO chimes in on these strikes:

Russia is making its first comments on the strikes:

And now Russia's U.S. embassy chimes in:

Some new strike footage:

Some new footage of pre-strike departures, Rafales loaded with SCALP-EG cruise missiles:

Update: 7:56pm PST—

It seems like more targets may have been hit, possibly air defense targets to help incoming missiles get through:

Could Iran activate Hezbollah for large-scale barrages on Israel as a response:

Some basic reporting on assets used at this time. Keep in mind this could all change:

Canada's statement:

Facilitating USAF air power back to their bases:

U.S. ambassador to Germany is trolling Berlin for not participating in the strikes:

Update: 8:22pm PST—

We have this exclusive photo that is said to show the B-1B used in the strikes all loaded up with JASSMs as we suspected. This sortie will mark the first combat use of this weapon. 

Anonymous

Update: 8:30pm PST—

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova just stated the following, quoted from RT:

"First, the Syrian people was subjected to Arab Spring, then Islamic State [IS, formerly ISIS, ISIL], now to 'smart' American missiles. A strike was carried out on the capital of a sovereign state, which for many years has been trying to survive under the threat of terror,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said.

She blamed “all those who claim moral leadership in this world, who declare their exceptionalism” for the attack, noting that "you should be really exceptional” to attack Syria at a time “when it was given a chance for a peaceful future.”

Syria claims victory!:

The Russian Navy may have watched Tomahawk launches up close and personal. This matches recent reporting on Russian naval movements in the Mediterranean:  

As we mentioned earlier, it looks like U.S. F-16s and F-15s provided counter-air screening against launches of Russian fighters and possible anti-ship missile attacks while this was underway. 

Update: 8:55pm PST—

Supposedly Syria is firing on American drones now. Gotta get that bomb damage assessment! But really, we have no idea what unmanned capabilities are being used for this. A Global Hawk did a run along the Syrian coast after the strikes and its sensors can peer quite deeply into Syria.

Update: 9:15pm PST—

The Syrian government is now claiming to have shot down an unmanned aircraft using 2K12 Kub/SA-6 Gainful medium-range surface to air missile. So far there has been no independent confirmation and there are no details as to the type of drone they're claiming to have destroyed. 

In addition, a spokesperson for Trump's National Security Council has reportedly told the Associated Press that the President's Tweets earlier in the week did, in fact, signal a clear intent to strike Syria in the near future. 

Update: 9:30pm PST—

Russia has now issued a statement that none of its facilities in Syria came under attack. This is not surprising as the United States said it focused entirely on Assad's regime and because targeting Russian forces directly would have risked a much more serious escalation.

More interestingly, an anonymous source, according to Reuters, is now claiming that Russia tipped off the Syrians to the incoming attack, which could have happened when they received the American deconfliction alerts. This supposedly gave them time to evacuate some of the target sites.

Update: 9:50pm PST—

Check out this video that the Syrian government says shows U.S. missiles being engaged by Syrian air defenses:

 Update: 10:15pm PST—

More from the Syrian government:

"The Ministry of Information calls on citizens not to trust any media reports, which are deliberately or undeliberately exaggerating the number of targets and consequences of the trilateral aggression... Several missiles of the three countries, which struck a research facility have only caused material damage to a building, which includes an educational center and scientific labs."

Russia's MoD claims nothing entered the air defense zones around their missile systems, whatever that means. 

"None of cruise missiles launched by the US and its allies did not enter the zone of responsibility of the Russian air defenses, covering objects in Tartus and Hmeymim ," the Russian Defense Ministry has announced.

Update: 10:40pm PST—

There is a bunch of tanker activity over the Mediterranean again:

Update: 10:51pm PST—

We are getting the first images of RAF Tornados launching with Storm Shadow missiles under their bellies:

MoD/Crown Copyright
MoD/Crown Copyright

Update: 11:05pm PST—

Another first during this operation, a French FREMM frigate launched at least three Naval Cruise Missiles. These weapons are a close relative of the SCALP air-launched cruise missiles fired by Rafales during the same operation mission. Hat tip to @AirDefenseNet for the heads up!

Based on our sources, at least four F-16s and four F-15s spent a lot of time between Cyprus and the Syrian coast as part of a single flight. These are the jets that likely provided counter-air screening, basically shutting down Russia's air base and being ready to engage cruise missiles fired in that direction at allied sea or land targets. The F-16s may have played a contingency SEAD role and/or may have delivered missiles for the initial strike as well. They seemed to have stayed on station for hours during and following the strike. 

Update: 12:10am PST—

Multiple reports that France also warned Russia ahead of the strikes.

Update: 12:30am PST—

Iran is now rattling their saber at the U.S., Reuters writes:

“With this attack...the situation will become more complex, and this will surely be at the expense of the United States, which will be responsible for the aftermath of upcoming regional events that will certainly not be in their interest,” Yadollah Javani, the Guards’ deputy head for political affairs, told Fars news agency.

Update: 1:00am PST—

Russian MoD now says that they are reconsidering outfitting Syria and other regional players with S-300 and S-400 air defense systems after last night's strike. They also say that dozens of missiles were fired at multiple airfields and none of them were hit with all missiles being shot down. The facilities that were hit were abandoned long ago. It also says that there are fighter patrols up over Syria now. 

CNN also reports that there are Russian jets orbiting over Homs and Damascus now.

Update: 1:10am PST—

Prime Minster May: 

-Four Tornados used in the attack with Storm Shadow missiles being launched at a chemical weapons facility west of Homs.

-Recounting evidence, including the fact that a helicopter delivered a barrel bomb thought to have been the chemical weapon. 

-Three targets were chosen to minimize escalation, limit the possibility of injuries to innocent bystanders, and to impact Assad's chemical weapons capability. 

-Restore/reinforce prohibition on chemical weapons.

Update: 1:47am PST—

Global Hawk back off Lebanon sucking up intel products for some very anxious intelligence analysts. 

Supposedly pieces of a Storm Shadow missile:

UPDATE: 2:30am PST—

Turkey has chimed in, here is their view of the strikes:

"Turkey considers the operation carried out early this morning by the United States, United Kingdom and France to be an appropriate response to the chemical attack which caused the deaths of many civilians in Douma on 7 April. We welcome this operation which has eased humanity’s conscience in the face of the attack in Douma, largely suspected to have been carried out by the regime.

Attacks with weapons of mass destruction, including chemical weapons, that indiscriminately target civilians constitute crimes against humanity. The Syrian regime, which has been tyrannizing its own people for more than seven years, be it with conventional or chemical weapons, has a proven track record of crimes against humanity and war crimes. The conscience of the international community carries no doubt to that effect.

Turkey believes that it is of critical importance that such crimes do not go unpunished and that accountability is ensured in order to prevent the recurrence of similar crimes.

In light of this experience, it is essential for the international community, in particular the members of the UN Security Council, to agree upon joint steps to ensure that the use of chemical weapons does not go unpunished."

We cannot confirm this photo, but if it is true, that building is toast:

Update: 3:37am PST—

An interesting historical fact—today is the 32nd anniversary of Operation El Dorado Canyon.

Update: 4:17am PST—

Syria's near invincible missile shield! Anything goes with these jokers:

Apparently, this is one of the targets now:

But what else should we expect after pouring over 100 standoff weapons onto just three limited target sets!

This operation has huge implications and takeaways on a tactical, strategic, and broader geopolitical level. I am not going to begin writing up my analysis until much more info becomes available. Hopefully, we will get that info today. 

Update: 5:33am PST—

First TLAM images: 

Looks like Syria is down a few SAMs:

Looks like we were right on the money as far as those F-15s and F-16s executing defensive counter-air screen between Cyprus and the Syrian coast. Here they are landing back at Aviano all loaded up:

Interesting to see if there was a standby SEAD package off the coast of any kind.

"Mission Accomplished:"

Here's the map of the targets from the Pentagon:

DoD

We have concluded updates on this post! Please go to our new post for the latest information linked here. 

Contact the author: Tyler@thedrive.com