Thursday, April 12, 2018
By Matti Suomenaro, Aaron Hesse, and the ISW Research Team
The U.S. has assessed that the Bashar al Assad regime is responsible for a chemical weapons attack in Damascus, Syria on April 7, 2018. The Assad-Russia-Iran coalition has been relocating its military assets and personnel in advance of an expected U.S.-led military operation intended to deter future use of chemical weapons. Iranian proxies are repositioning in order to mitigate the effects of a strike. The map accompanying the data below identifies key pro-regime military movements from April 8 – 12, 2018.
Bashar al Assad Regime-Russia-Iran Coalition
Two Russian Su-24M ‘Fencer’ attack aircraft conducted several low-altitude passes in close proximity to the USS Donald Cook and the French frigate Aquitaine in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea on April 11. The Russian Navy conducted a firing drill off the Syrian coast in a likely attempt to deter U.S. and allied naval maneuvers near Syria on April 11.
Russia reportedly deployed four Tu-95MS ‘Bear’ and Tu-160M ‘Blackjack’ strategic bombers as well as an unspecified number of Il-78M tanker aircraft from the Engels Air Base in Southern Russia. Their final destination is unknown although they may be bound for Syria or the Hamedan Air Base in Western Iran. Russia previously targeted locations in Eastern Syria from the Engels Air Base.
Russian and regime forces enhanced the air defenses around Syria’s capital, Damascus, where the regime conducted its chemical weapons attack on April 7. Pro-regime forces deployed short- to medium-range surface-to-air missiles, including six Russian Pantsir-S2s, to the Mezzeh Military Air Base and other sites in Damascus. Pro-regime officials also reportedly issued an alert to the Syrian Arab Army to evacuate personnel and assets from military bases across Syria.
Regime and Russian aircraft relocated closer to heavily-defended commercial airfields across Syria. Aircraft relocated from the Seen (Sayqal), Dumayr, Shayrat, and the T-4 (Tiyas) Air Bases to the Bassel al Assad International Airport in Latakia Province, the Nayrab Air Base outside Aleppo City, and the Damascus International Airport.
Iranian proxies, including Lebanese Hezbollah, reportedly began exiting Syria. Hezbollah reportedly relocated a number of fighters from Syria into Lebanon. Hezbollah and other Iranian proxies reportedly also entered Iraq from positions along the Syria-Iraq border, including Abu Kamal in Eastern Syria.
Unspecified pro-regime elements reportedly evacuated a branch of the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Center (SSRC) in Jamraya near Damascus. The SSRC is a Syrian government body responsible for research and development on advanced weapons systems, including ballistic missiles and chemical weapons.
The Iranian-backed al Houthi movement escalated its series of ballistic missile strikes targeting Saudi Arabia. The strikes fit a pre-existing escalatory pattern but also coincide with Saudi Arabia’s expressed support for a military response in Syria. The al Houthi movement targeted Riyadh and two other locations in Saudi Arabia with a ballistic missile and kamikaze drones on April 11. It remains unclear if Iran directed the escalation against Saudi Arabia.
The U.S. Navy announced that the guided-missile destroyer USS Donald Cook departed from Larnaca, Cyprus to the Eastern Mediterranean Sea on April 9. The guided-missile destroyer USS Porter is also operating in the Navy’s Sixth Fleet area of operations. The U.S. Navy announced on April 11 that the USS Harry Truman Carrier Strike Group departed from Norfolk, Virginia for a regularly scheduled deployment in support of ongoing operations by the Navy’s Fifth and Sixth Fleets, the headquarters for which are located in Bahrain and Italy, respectively.
The cruise missile-capable French frigate Aquitaine is stationed in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea.
Britain reportedly ordered the deployment of an unspecified number of cruise missile-capable submarines to the Mediterranean Sea within range of Syria.
Turkey maintains at least one warship stationed near Cyprus in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea. The Turkish Navy originally deployed to block offshore hydrocarbon exploration by Italy and France in the territorial waters of Cyprus on February 3, 2018.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman announced his “readiness to work with allies on any military response in Syria if needed” following a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris on April 10.
The Critical Threats Project at the American Enterprise Institute contributed to the Yemen-related content in this publication.
Two U.S. officials said they were “confident” in the intelligence, though not 100 percent sure.
by Courtney Kube and Ken Dilanian / Apr.12.2018 / 1:17 PM ET
Syrian children wait to receive medical treatment after Syrian government forces allegedly conducted a poisonous gas attack on Douma, in eastern Ghouta, on April 7. Fadi Abdullah / Getty Images
WASHINGTON — The U.S. now has blood and urine samples from last Saturday’s deadly attack in Syria that have tested positive for chemical weapons, according to two U.S. officials familiar with the intelligence.
The samples suggested the presence of both chlorine gas and an unnamed nerve agent, two officials said. Typically, such samples are obtained through hospitals and collected by U.S. or foreign intelligence assets on the ground. The officials said they were “confident” in the intelligence, though not 100 percent sure.
The Assad regime is known to have stocks of the nerve agent sarin, and has previously used a mixture of chlorine and sarin in attacks, say U.S. officials.
Officials also said that the U.S. has compiled intelligence from the U.S. and other countries, including images, that indicate the Syrian government was behind the weekend attack.
Activists and aid groups say that dozens died in Saturday’s airborne assault on Douma, the last rebel stronghold in eastern Ghouta, which has been subjected to intensive bombing by Syria’s Russian-backed Assad regime.
Russia and Syria have denied any involvement in the alleged chemical attack.
U.S. officials say the Assad regime has conducted multiple chlorine attacks on rebels during the past six months.
In April 2017, President Donald Trump ordered a missile strike on a Syrian airfield after victims of an Assad regime attack on civilians in Khan Sheikhoun tested positive for sarin. U.S. officials said the government used a mixture of chlorine and sarin to kill dozens of civilians.
The assessment about the nature of this April’s chemical attack and its likely origin with the Assad regime will be presented to the president, said an official familiar with the intelligence. The president is weighing options for retaliation.
Tuesday, April 10, 2018
ISW Senior Intelligence Planner Jennifer Cafarella answers three key questions in the aftermath of the Bashar al Assad regime-Iran-Russia coalition’s April 2018 campaign in Syria’s capital and the associated chemical weapons attack on civilians: read the Q&A on ISW’s main website here.
Updated ISW map of the Assad-Iran-Russia posture and control of terrain assessments (for a PDF version, please visit ISW’s main website):