The Syrian Crisis has entered a new phase with the reported chemical weapons attack on 21 August. The US is preparing to intervene in the civil war if it turns out that the chemical weapons usage was in fact committed by the Syrian government’s forces. As time goes on, it appears that Bashir Assad was responsible for the attack. Western military intervention is all but certain at this point. However, the size and scope of that intervention has yet to be decided upon. Neither has the diplomatic side of the intervention equation. The only cast-iron certainty at this point is that the number of questions outnumber the answers available by a considerable margin.
It is widely held that the US and her allies have not yet intervened in Syria. That is not true. The US and her allies have not overtly intervened militarily. Up till now the United States military role has been behind the scenes and limited to the delivery of weapons to opposition groups deemed to be ‘acceptable successors’ to the Assad regime. It is safe to assume that US Special Forces groups are operating in Southern Syria to help instruct the opposition fighters on weapons and tactics, as well as paving the way for a larger US military role in the future should the situation call for it. The time for that larger role could be fast approaching.
If and when it comes, what will intervention look like? Will it be unilateral, or will the US build an international coalition to confront Assad’s regime? Will it be a limited strike restricted to the use of Tomahawk cruise missiles and air launched stand-off weapons against a small number of targets? Or will it take the shape of a larger effort to topple Assad? An operation using the Libyan blueprint as its foundation.
Given the outrage caused in Washington by the use of chemical weapons, the destruction of Syria’s remaining chemical weapons stockpiles should be an immediate objective of any intervention. Destroying them will not be an easy task. Assad no doubt has them dispersed in hardened, well defended locations throughout the country. When the locations are determined, it will not be as easy sending a fighter or bomber overhead to drop bombs on them. Air defenses have to be degraded, command and control sites neutralized and most importantly, air superiority must be established across the width and breadth of Syria.
The aforementioned things need to be done prior to any military action aside from a limited strike. Right now, the US forces in the area are limited to four destroyers and an unknown number of attack submarines in the Eastern Med, as well as a contingent of USAF aircraft in Jordan. More military assets will be needed. The numbers and types of forces that move into the region in the coming days will provide an idea of what type of action is coming. British aircraft are already arriving at RAF Akrotiri. US aircraft are probably not far behind. Akrotiri, bases in Jordan and the large airbase at Incirlik, Turkey are all available locations for US warplanes, as well as warplanes belonging to the other nations of a forming Anti-Assad coalition.