Saturday 8 September, 2018 Update: US Considering Its Military Options If Syria Uses Chemical Weapons


The looming Syrian offensive into Idlib presents a challenge to the United States. If Bashar al-Assad uses chemical weapons against rebels and civilians, as he has done twice so far during the tenure of President Donald Trump, how should the US react? The Khan Shaykhun chemical attack in April, 2017, and the Douma attack one year later both brought about US military action. The 2017 US response was a unilateral Tomahawk missile strike against Shayrat airbase. One year later in April, 2018, the US, Great Britain, and France carried out a series of air and missile strikes against targets in Syria in retaliation for the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons in Douma. If Assad’s forces chose to employ chemical weapons in Idlib will it provoke another US military action? If so, what shape will it take? More importantly, will it run the risk of provoking a Russian response?

The Pentagon and White House are already weighing these questions, and the Pentagon is starting to examine what military options the US will have available if Assad uses chemical weapons in Idlib. Given the Syrian leader’s track record it’s only prudent for the US to begin planning now. If chemical weapons are used again, the White House will want to move swiftly and decisively.

Unfortunately, Assad may not be able to be dissuaded. Idlib province is the last remaining rebel stronghold in Syria. When it is pacified, it will leave the rebels with just a few isolated pockets of territory. An end to the seven-year old conflict will finally be in sight with Assad’s control of Syria all but guaranteed. International concern that the coming offensive could trigger a humanitarian disaster have done nothing to deter the Syrian government, or its Russian and Iranian backers.

With that in mind,  any US threats of military action should Syria use chemical weapons are unlikely to dissuade Assad once hostilities begin in Idlib.


August Updates And News

Through August, this blog will be going through some renovations in order to make it more manageable and user friendly. Today’s DIRT is in need of some tender loving care, namely in the forms of aesthetic and organizational upgrades. As I try different formats and ideas some aspects of the blog will change. However, the content will remain much the same. I will not make any permanent changes until after Labor Day. One change I am initiating immediately is the inclusion of a monthly brief. It will include details on planned or upcoming articles. Updates will continue to be posted as events around the world occur, but the articles are going to be in depth pieces on a host of defense and IR topics.




Upcoming Articles For August


Ukraine: Casus Belli On The Horizon – Russian military intervention in the conflict seems more likely as the days pass. The pieces appear to be lining up across the board. As forces mass on the border, and the separatists suffer defeats at the hands of the Ukrainian military, Moscow is beginning to voice its concerns about the ‘Humanitarian Crisis’ building in the eastern Ukrainian provinces. The hardships being endured by the residents of Donetsk could give Russia with a justification for hostilities. An intervention under the pretext of a peacekeeping mission to alleviate the suffering of the people in Donetsk, for example, could provide Russia with a thick enough blanket of legitimacy for overt military intervention to begin.


US Defense Policies & Doctrine: New Threats Equal New Ideas – A resurgent Russia, Chinese territorial expansion and the emergence of ISIS come at a time when the Obama administration is trying to tighten the belt on defense spending. The Pentagon is in the process of formulating new doctrines and long term acquisition plans to sculpt a military that is prepared to meet an abundance of capable, aggressive potential enemies. New ideas are desperately needed. This article will examine what paths the Pentagon should explore in the coming months and years.


Europe’s New Defense Realities: A Second Look – The reemergence of the Russian Bear is forcing European nations to reexamine their shrinking defense budgets and outdated doctrines. In the face of an aggressive Russia, what role will NATO assume? The European nations willing to undergo the rearmaments that will be needed to contend with the potential threat forming in the east?

Air-Sea Battle Spearheads Pentagon Planning For Future Conflicts

With the Iraq commitment now in the past and the end of the Afghan war now in sight, the US military is casting an eye to the future. DOD is becoming serious about preparing new strategic concepts and operational doctrine for the future. The military entered the Afghanistan and Iraq wars as a machine primarily geared for fighting and winning a conventional interstate war. Through nearly twelve years of fluid low intensity conflict, the military continually adapted itself and its doctrines to stay one step ahead of the enemy. In spite of the opinions of some untrained observers, the service branches were all quite successful in doing this.

Now, as OEF winds down, the Pentagon is beginning to focus on the future. Concerted efforts are underway to identify potential battlefields and opponents and determine what tools and doctrines will be needed to fight and win tomorrow’s war.  This is no small undertaking, especially now, with the possibility of large scale defense budget cuts about to become a reality. Pentagon planners are being asked to prepare the force to fight the next war on a shoestring budget. Not intelligent, not very fair, but it’s the reality of the moment.

The first question is: Who will be the most likely opponents on the battlefield tomorrow? From the 1947-48 through to the end of the Cold War in 1991, the primary adversary of the US military was the Soviet Union. Doctrine, weapons design and procurement, training, exercises and planning at almost every level was geared towards a potential fight against the Soviet adversary. If it had come at any point (except for the mid to late 70s, a.k.a the Post Vietnam Malaise Years) the US would have been prepared. That fight never materialized, thankfully enough.

Preparation is more complex in contemporary times. There are a host of potential future adversaries. Political correctness forbids the Pentagon from publicly declaring what specific nations the military is preparing to fight. However, inside the E Ring, it’s generally recognized and accepted that the United States needs to be prepared for an armed conflict with the People’s Republic of China, Iran and North Korea above all. Proof that the Pentagon regards the Iran and the PRC military threats as valid is evident in the still emerging Air-Sea Battle (ASB) concept.

ASB is an operational concept that was conceived by the Air Force and Navy in 2009. It is not a doctrine… least not yet, and the ASB information available to the public is, understandably, vague and incomplete. In short, ASB revolves around a concerted Joint effort to defeat an enemy’s Anti Access/ Area Denial (A2/AD) weapons systems and tactics. A2/AD centers on an enemy’s ability to deny US military forces the opportunity to project power in a respective combat theater.  China and Iran’s A2/AD capabilities are both robust and becoming more integrated as time goes on. Both nations would benefit exponentially from a successful A2/AD campaign against the US in a future conflict. Keeping American military power at arms-length in the Western Pacific would give China a free hand to use against Taiwan. In the Persian Gulf, Iranian A2/AD efforts would focus on denying US forces the use of  air and sea space around the Straits of Hormuz.

Naval and air forces will form the core of an anti- A2/AD effort. However, the US Army and Marine Corps are being brought into the concept too. The Army’s main contribution is with theater and area air defense assets. The Marines effort appears to be less defined, but in all probability will include its formidable air power.

ASB is far from a finished product, yet it does prove that the Pentagon is moving away from the low intensity conflict mindset and beginning to focus on the more conventional threats that US forces are facing now and will face in the near future.