First Published: 2018-04-14

US-led strikes steer clear of Russian military
Targets in Western strikes on Syria appeared to steer well clear of any Russian military personnel or equipment.
Middle East Online

Military retaliation would be highly risky for Russia.

MOSCOW - President Donald Trump's administration has made clear it sees Moscow as complicit in the latest suspected chemical weapons attack in Syria, but Pentagon planners are taking pains to avoid hitting Russian military assets.

Saturday's strikes were limited in scope despite bellicose rhetoric from both sides, while a direct clash between the West and Russia in Syria could quickly flip the seven-year-old conflict in a new and dangerous direction.

According to General Joe Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the strikes hit three targets related to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's chemical weapons programme -- a scientific research centre near Damascus, a weapons storage facility west of Homs and a third location that contained both a command post and an equipment storage facility in the same area.

These targets appeared to steer well clear of any Russian military personnel or equipment.

Moscow said none of the missiles hit its Hmeimim airbase or its naval facility at Tartus adding that it did not activate its own sophisticated air defence systems.

"With regard to the Russian concerns, we specifically identified these targets to mitigate the risk of Russian forces being involved," Dunford said.

Russia's defence ministry said no Syrian civilians or military were killed in the attacks.

The Russian military said 103 cruise missiles were fired, including Tomahawk missiles, but Syrian air defence systems managed to intercept 71 of them.

In his primetime address announcing the strikes, Trump accused Russian President Vladimir Putin and his government of failing to guarantee a 2013 deal that was supposed to rid Assad of his chemical weapons.

"Assad's recent attack -- and today's response -- are the direct result of Russia's failure to keep that promise," Trump said.

But both Dunford and Defence Secretary Jim Mattis stressed that strikes were not intended to pull America deeper into Syria's war.

"The targets tonight again were specifically designed to degrade the Syrian war machine's ability to create chemical weapons and to set that back," Mattis said.

"There were no attempts to broaden or expand that target set."

The Kremlin has said it severely condemns the "act of aggression" and has called an emergency session of the United Nations Security Council.

Analyst Alexey Malashenko, a specialist in the Syria conflict, said that military retaliation would be highly risky for Russia and Moscow appeared to be choosing a war of words instead.

"Russia had a choice -- either to risk and respond militarily, which is very dangerous because you can lose, or what is happening now."

Moscow will kick up "a huge row" including at the United Nations, Malashenko predicted, "but no real action will be taken."

- 'Deconfliction' -

Dunford noted that the US military did not coordinate any targets or any plans with the Russians ahead of Friday's strikes.

But he said a long-standing "deconfliction" line was used to tell Moscow the areas where the Americans, French and British would be conducting operations.

Communication on the line is a near-daily occurrence designed to stop mishaps as a US-led coalition conducts an air war against the Islamic State group while Russia pursues its own goals of propping up Assad.

Moscow hardly needed a heads up that military action was coming.

On Wednesday, President Donald Trump tweeted that "nice and new and 'smart!'" missiles would be coming Syria's way, and that Russia should "get ready."

He vacillated the next day after being criticized for telegraphing war plans and insisted that no final decision had been made.

"Our relationship with Russia is worse now than it has ever been, and that includes the Cold War," Trump tweeted on Wednesday.

The air strikes were limited in scope, lasting about an hour. Mattis said no additional attacks were planned, though Trump earlier suggested the strikes could last longer.

Russia has been deeply enmeshed in Syria's civil war since 2015 and Washington and Moscow have already indirectly clashed in the country.

The outgoing head of the CIA, Mike Pompeo, this week appeared to confirm reports that around 200 Russian mercenaries were killed in February during a clash with US-led forces in Syria.

 

Russia mulls supplying S-300 missile systems to Syria

Morocco, EU start talks on new fisheries deal

Bashir fires Sudan foreign minister

US has 'concerns' about Turkey holding fair vote under state of emergency

Saudi women embrace sports headscarves

Rouhani slams officials' 'vow of silence' in face of protests

Natalie Portman says backed out of Israel prize over Netanyahu

Rebels set to leave new area outside Damascus

FIFA to return to Morocco to check hotels, stadiums

Turkey in shock after violent Istanbul derby

Iraq pays first war reparations to Kuwait since 2014

Fiery kites adopted as new tactic by Gaza protesters

Romanian president slams plan to move Israel embassy

Western strikes on Syria bring no change whatsoever

Trump criticises OPEC for high oil prices

Syria says rebels south of capital surrender

Market has capacity to absorb higher oil prices: Saudi minister

Putin 'ready' for Trump summit

Saudi Arabia to host first public film screening

HRW criticises Lebanon for evicting Syria refugees

Saudi says intercepted ballistic missile from Yemen

Washington: Assad still has 'limited' chemical capability

European MPs urge US not to scrap Iran deal

Oil price soars to highest level in years

Two more pro-Kurdish MPs stripped of Turkey seats

Oil theft 'costing Libya over $750 million annually'

Turkey's snap polls: bold gambit or checkmate for Erdogan?

Iran arrests senior official over public concert

Bahrain sentences 24 to jail, strips citizenship

UN experts urge Iran to cancel Kurd's death sentence

Moderate quake strikes near Iran nuclear power plant

Syria regime forces caught in surprise IS attack

Turkey sentences 18 to life for killing ‘hero’ coup soldier

Exxon faces setback in Iraq as oil and water mix

Libya to clamp down on fuel smuggling

Yemen to arrest colonel for overlooking African migrant rape

Erdogan sends Turkey to snap polls on June 24

Qatar joins Gulf military exercise in apparent compromise

Saudi-Russia oil alliance likely to undercut OPEC

UN in security talks with Syria on chemical probe

Riyadh says two al Qaeda militants killed in Yemen

Record of women candidates in Lebanon, but you can't tell from TV

Sudan protests to UN over Egypt voting in disputed area

Erdogan calls Turkey snap polls for June 24

Rights watchdog say African migrants face rape, torture in Yemen