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What to expect when the U.S. strikes Syria

By Marshall Connolly, Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
August 27th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Sometime within the next 24-48 hours, the United States will unleash its military wrath upon Syrian President, Bashir al Assad, striking a wishlist of military targets provided by the Free Syrian Army. Here's what you can expect.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - President Obama has already made his most basic decision, which is that barring any extraordinary events, the United States, in conjunction with NATO allies, will execute a sharp strike, chiefly using cruise missiles, against regime targets in Syria. Multiple sources confirm the military is ready and all that remains is to prepare the public for its eventuality.

The strike is intended to be a rebuke for the use of chemical weapons against civilians in the suburbs of Damascus last week.

Between now and then, we can expect President Obama to make his case to the American people by asking Jay Carney and others to release intelligence information on the chemical attacks in Damascus. The first dump of information is expected later today with a report that supposedly contains communications intercepts from Syrian military commanders.

These intercepts could contain damning communications that prove the regime deployed chemical weapons. Given the certainty with which the administration is moving, it likely has such evidence. Although there will be claims of fabrication, most credible analysis will dismiss them. Reasonably speaking, it is evident and likely that the regime is guilty and worthy of sanction.

At the time an attack is ordered, President Obama will address the American people. This is appropriate for a commander-in-chief anytime the use of force is ordered.

The timing of the speech will probably coincide with the attacks, usually coming just after they have started to prevent alerting the enemy that the strikes are inbound. By the time we see Obama on the television, the first salvos should have landed.

News media will break in with coverage of the strikes, which will likely be comprised of cruise missiles launched from four missile destroyers and at least one attack submarine said to be in the region. Other ships and assets are reportedly on their way.

Syria has advance warning, and the world knows this is coming. Although U.S. weaponry is powerful, it is also very likely that Syria will have moved many of its assets to safety. Weapons caches will be stored in deep bunkers and mobile assets will be on constant move. Meanwhile, easy-to-kill fixed assets such as radar installations and SAM sites will have to be written off as lost.

What is unknown then, is if Obama will order strikes against bunkers, strikes that are better made with bombers dropping smart bombs. Known as JDAMS, bombers are capable of dropping these GPS-guided, bunker-busting bombs on targets in any weather and from very high altitude. The best tool for this job would be B-2 Spirit "stealth" bombers based in Missouri.

In fact, the flight of B-2 bombers from Missouri could actually provide excellent notice of a pending attack since their flight time to their targets would be measured in hours.

However, while this step would be effective at destroying deeply situated assets, it also involves overflying Syrian airspace. Stealth bombers can evade radar detection, but interception is still possible by fighter jets. Technical difficulties could also cause the loss of a bomber, something the Obama administration is probably keen to avoid.

For some targets, B-2 bombers could possibly stand-off and drop their bombs from over Israeli and Turkish airspace, however this risks directly involving those countries in the conflict. Israel in particular may be keen to avoid a wider conflict. There would also be a limit on how far away the bombers can operate from their targets, and that limit is reasonably short -bunker-busting bombs drop more than they can fly.

Drone strikes are thought to be an unlikely option. Although some drones may be deployed, they will be used in a supporting role, providing intelligence and damage assessments in the wake of the attacks. Most drones in the U.S. arsenal are deployed in the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, so they are not really in easy range of Syria. Furthermore, their weapons systems are more suited to striking individual soft targets, such as vehicles and people, as opposed to hardened targets such as bunkers.

The attack will probably come at night, local time, which will be daytime for Americans on Wednesday or Thursday at the latest.

The attacks will not continue beyond the initial strike because Obama does not want to become embroiled in the ground war. The strike is intended to punish and weaken Assad, not topple him altogether.

Obama may wish to avoid making attacks on Friday, which is the Islamic holy day. He also wants to have the strikes finished before meeting with Russian leaders next week during the scheduled G8 summit.

While the Russians may angrily tolerate a strike, they would be hard-pressed to tolerate ongoing intervention in a region they see as within their sphere of influence.

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Ultimately, whatever happens will happen soon, and end as quickly as it starts. What will remain after that will be what response Syria and its allies will make, if any.

Although speeches will be given and Syria will remain defiant, it is unlikely that Assad is either capable or willing to invite further American intervention, or that of our regional allies such as Israel. The world is probably safe from World War III.

Soon, Obama will deliver a rebuke, then we'll see if it makes any difference and pushes Assad's regime to the negotiating table with the rebels. 

It sure doesn't measure up to peace, but sadly the powers that be discarded that option long ago.

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