With the downing of two Syrian aircraft by U.S. forces in the last month and Russian withdrawal from an airspace de-confliction comms channel, the conflict in Syria has taken a turn towards a larger proxy war between the United States and Russia. New allegations of Syrian preparations of another chemical attack could be the final push needed to start an open conflict between Russian and American military units in the area.
Following the chemical attacks on civilians in April, President Trump ordered a devastating cruise missile attack against the Syrian airfield suspected of launching the chemical attack. It is estimated that nearly 20% of Syria’s ground attack aircraft were damaged or destroyed in the U.S. strike.
A further chemical attack by the Assad regime would likely draw an even stronger response from the Trump administration for a few reasons. First, there is a larger U.S. presence on the ground to be threatened by Syrian chemical attacks. Secondly, there are more U.S. naval and aviation assets in the region that are available to launch a retaliatory attack on Assad’s forces. Finally, Trump doesn’t like to be ignored, and he has already told Assad once.
A U.S. retaliatory strike becomes more problematic than the April strike in large part due to the Russian pullout from the multinational comms effort designed to de-conflict American and Russian flights in the region. When the Russians pulled out of the comms agreement they warned that any coalition aircraft flying west of the Euphrates would be tracked (and not because they like how we look on the radar screen). It doesn’t take a leap of the imagination to see Russians firing on coalition aircraft that they believe are a threat to Russian advisors on the ground, or even to regular Syrian forces.
The decision by U.S. commanders to shoot down the SU-22 attack aircraft south of Al-Taqba on June 18th, and the subsequent downing of an Iranian made, Syrian owned ground attack drone near the Iraqi border opens the door for a Russian response to future U.S. strikes on Syrian ground forces. If Russian Aircraft or SAMs were successful in shooting down an American plane it could easily lead to a rapid escalation between the two and forcing the current limited proxy war into something far more serious.
In the mean time, here are some things to watch for if Syria is on your radar:
- There are unconfirmed reports dating back to June 21st of the Russians setting up a base near Al-Tanf (where the U.S. F-15 shot down the Syrian drone)
- Syrian Army reports that 15 troops were killed in Western Syria neat Madinat Al-Ba’ath by an Israeli airstrike early June 25th
- on June 23rd a Turkish military helicopter crossed the border near Tall Abya
Bottom line for our combat arms brethren; keep your powder dry, make sure you are up to speed on identification of Russian, Syrian and Iranian armored vehicles, and most importantly – stay lethal – it could get dangerous out there sooner rather than later.