Immediately following a joint air strike campaign carried out by the United States, United Kingdom and France against multiple targets associated with Syria’s chemical weapon infrastructure, Defense Secretary James Mattis attended a press conference along with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford to address the offensive. After discussing the details of the strike, Mattis offered one insightful warning:
“Based on recent experience, we fully expect a significant disinformation campaign over the coming days by those who have aligned themselves with the Assad regime,” he told the press.
It was clear from the start that Mattis was referring to Russia, who have provided Bashar al Assad with directly military support throughout the Syrian civil war and who claimed the responsibility of ensuring Assad’s stockpiles of chemical weapons had been destroyed. Assad’s continued use of the banned weapons, as a result, has been characterized by President Trump as a violation of international law carried out now only by the embattled Syrian president, but his Russian patron, Vladimir Putin.
Mattis was soon proven right, as Russian statements flooded internet and media outlets making outlandish claims about the allied offensive. Russia claimed the chemical attack never took place, then refused to allow UN inspectors into the area to investigate for weeks. Russia also claimed Syrian air defenses had successfully countered the offensive, even going so far as to offer specific (and fabricated) figures to show the success rate of their “Soviet era” systems against American, British, and French ballistic missile platforms.
“The Syrian air defence [sic] systems, which are primarily the USSR-made AD systems, have successfully countered the air and naval strikes,” The Russian Ministry of Defense wrote in a statement.
“In total, 71 cruise missiles have been intercepted. The S-125, S-200, Buk, Kvadrat, and Osa Syrian AD systems were involved in repelling the attack.”
The American Defense Department quickly countered those claims, offering satellite images that proved the hasty coalition’s targets had all been destroyed and issuing their own statements claiming that not a single inbound missile from any of the three nations was intercepted by Russian or Syrian platforms. The Defense Department went on to say that Syria did indeed fire ballistic missiles, but seemingly with no intended targets, meaning Syrian defenses only posed a threat to themselves.
“Most of the launches occurred after our strike was over,” Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie, the Joint Staff director, said. “When you shoot iron into the air without guidance, it has to come down somewhere.”
Since then, it has been confirmed that Syrian defenses did indeed fire two potential interceptors during the air campaign, neither of which came close to intercepting any inbound weapons. It’s unclear what prompted those two launches, but Popular Mechanics writer Kyle Mizokami has posited that it was likely one of three things: the dated platforms may have caught a glimpse of an inbound missile and they launched hoping for the best, they may have launched by mistake during the chaos of the attack, or they have simply opted to launch blind to save face.
More missiles were reportedly launched at nothing after the attack was over, suggesting that the third theory may be correct. Anti-air commanders likely ordered to the launch of platforms to look as though they were working to counter the inbound strikes, knowing that they truly could do nothing to stop them.
In any event, it’s clear: no missiles were intercepted, and Russia has once again been caught in a bold faced lie issued through formal channels.
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons