The Pared down US “Strike” Will Leave Syrian Air Force, Arsenals and WMD Intact

By forgoing an air assault and relegating his projected military operation against Syria solely to seaborne Tomahawk cruise missiles, US President Barack Obama relinquished America’s “penetration and destruction” capabilities against an abbreviated list of military targets selected for the operation.
In a word, the president curtailed the range of US weapons systems assigned to the attack. By sticking exclusively to Tomahawks, Washington a priori sacrificed the following military objectives:
1. Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles will remain intact. The Tomahawks can damage surface structures at the bases hosting them, but not penetrate their underground storage sites.
Assad will be left in full possession of his CW arsenal.
2. Neither can Tomahawks alone cripple the Syrian Air Force or shut down its bases. They could damage runways, but only for the hours or days it would take to repair them.
DEBKA Weekly's military sources say that the Syria air force is left with six air bases still operational, out of a total of thirty. All them could be destroyed simply by a quantity of missiles heavier than Tomahawks or air strikes. Their destruction would have given the Syrian rebels a huge advantage and opened the way for a plan to impose no-fly zones over Syrian air space.
But Obama clearly chose to discard those options.

No serious disruptions of Assad regime or military capabilities

By delaying his go-ahead on military action against Syria – even for a low-key operation, guaranteed to involve no more than 15 Tomahawk missiles – he gave the Assad regime time to tuck most of its air force bombers and attack helicopters away in fortified hangars early this week, safe from attack. As the hours slipped by with no US action, the Syrian ruler’s self-confidence mounted.
All the Tomahawks can attack now are the surface structures at those air bases.
3. Syrian missiles have likewise been hidden in underground bunkers. They include the Scud C and D missiles which capable of carrying chemical warheads.
4. The big Syrian field command centers will also escape unscathed, although DEBKA Weekly’s military sources report that many of them figures large as strategic assets on the list of targets which the Pentagon and US military chiefs put before the president.
Among them were the command and control centers of the Syrian army’s 4th Division and Republican Guard Division, which protect Bashar Assad and bolster his regime's hold on power.
The list also included military command centers in Homs, Hama, Tartus, Latakia, the Aleppo area and Idlib.
Striking those targets would have shut down the Syrian military command system and seriously disrupted its operational capabilities.

Assad could carry on exactly as before

A second list of 35 strategic targets was handed to President Obama by Syrian rebel commander Brig. Gen. Salim Idris, according to our sources. Their destruction was described as vital. However, not a single item on the list was approved by the president, the Pentagon on the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Gen. Martin Dempsey.
This rejection confirmed the total mistrust and disconnect characterizing relations between the US administration and military, and the Syrian rebel leadership.
5. Our sources say that the only targets left on the US military to-do list for Syria are mainly certain Syrian artillery units, some of which participated in the chemical weapons launch of August 21 against eastern Damascus; local command and communications centers; and a number of Syrian research institutes involved in the development and upgrade of Syrian chemical weapons.
This heavily pruned US operation, if it goes through, will leave Syrian President Bashar Assad sitting pretty with most of his military resources intact, and his hands free to continue his barbaric war on the Syrian opposition, including the use of chemical weapons, unhindered and undeterred.

But what if Obama has second thoughts?

Might Obama be deterred but this shabby outcome and have second thoughts? He may even surprise everyone with another U-turn, this one reverting to the far more ambitious and wide-reaching US Plan A for Syria. The prospects of this were very slim at this time.
Planned originally, according to DEBKA Weekly’s military sources, was a targeted assault on the two Syrian army divisions – not just for the crime of massacring civilians with poison gas, but as protectors of the Assad regime in Damascus.
Destroying their communications links, command and control centers and their armed and artillery units would leave the Syrian president, his General Staff and the top tier of government with minimal defenses.
It would also sharply shrink the regime’s military assets in the capital and bring them down to a level approximating those commanded by the rebel forces beleaguering Damascus.
On Aug. 21, debkafile revealed that, eleven days earlier, several hundred rebel fighters, trained in special operations tactics by American military instructors based in Jordan, entered Syria from the Hashemite Kingdom.
Another 3,000 are now standing on the border ready to go in. This increment to the rebel strength looming over Damascus could tip the scales against government forces. It might even be enough to drive Assad and his loyal regime heads into flight from the capital to the loyal northwestern towns of Tartus and Latakia on the Mediterranean coast and the Alawite Mountains.

Will Obama turn the clock back or mark time?

This projected chain of events would suggest that the Obama administration’s original plan, notwithstanding protestation to the contrary, would have gone far beyond the limited objective of an accounting with Syria over its use of chemical weapons. It would in act have led to regime change.
This is what the Syrians, the Iranians and the Russians suspected.
They also saw the American game plan as aiming at seriously degrading the Syrian army’s assets in and outside the capital.
They also suspected the Americans of planning to knock out the only six Syrian air bases out of 30 that were still serviceable, or order to remove Assad’s air force from the war equation.
Another part of the initial US blueprint proposed taking out the government’s naval facilities along the Mediterranean coast and its shore defenses.
All in all, that plan, which President Obama appeared to have discarded in his latest comments Wednesday, Aug. 28, would have sought to turn the Syrian clock back to late 2012, when the Syrian opposition was gaining the upper hand in the civil war and government forces falling back.
In early 2013, Moscow, Tehran and Hizballah stepped in to turn the tide of the war in favor of their ally. They pumped fresh fighting forces into Syria from Iran, Lebanon and Iraq, established a new Syrian popular army armed with huge infusions of weapons, and put up half a billion dollars a month to bankroll the Assad regime.
The first US military plan aimed at restoring the pre-2013 status quo and giving the rebels back the edge they held in late 2012. So which plan is Obama going for? The ambitious Plan A or its pallid successor? The answer is just days away.

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