Trump’s Tomahawks

So, President Trump has finally got around to launching the traditional first-term cruise missile attack on a Middle Eastern country, and I have to say the results have been remarkable. People who, last week, were calling him an unstable racist are now falling over themselves to congratulate him. It seems like all that’s necessary to win the approval of the antiracist, antimilitarist left is fire a salvo of Tomahawks at some brown people. Who’d have guessed?

Of course, this attack might have done wonders for President Trump’s reputation with his enemies, but it’s been a lot less popular with his supporters. Plenty of people are saying that more US intervention in the Middle East isn’t what they voted for, especially when Russia is involved.

Syria is a mess, and any involvement has the potential to become complicated in a hurry. That means it’s vital to make sure US action is worth the potential cost, and it’s not clear that this is the case here. Trump does seem to have taken care to minimise the potential harm, giving Russia advance notice of the attack – a warning that’s sure to have been passed on to the Syrians. That kept casualties to a minimum while sending a strong signal that America is pissed off at the 4 April chemical attack on the town of Khan Shaykhun.

There’s one thing bothering me, though. Is America pissed off at the right people? Because I’m really struggling to accept that this attack really was carried out by the Syrian air force.
Firstly, I don’t know why Assad’s military would have used chemical weapons here. Khan Shaykhun isn’t a strategic target. Piecing together the evidence, it seems that a two-plane element of Sukhoi Su-22 strike aircraft each launched a pair of rockets at a target in the town. Aerial rockets are an unusual way to deliver a chemical agent; it’s a lot of effort for a very small payload, which is why Russia – and Syria – always loaded its chemical weapons into bombs or spray tanks.

Politically it also makes little sense. Assad would have known that any use of chemicals would cause international fury, so why provoke this reaction for a small strike on a low-importance target? If he was going to run the risk of retaliation, why not make it worthwhile and launch a major strike on something important?
In chemical warfare terms, this was a very minor attack. The suspected weapon is sarin, a non-persistent nerve agent known for its extreme lethality. To launch sarin-filled weapons into fairly densely populated town, and only kill 86 people, is stretching credulity. I’ve done the NBC Warning and Reporting course and some rough and ready templating suggest that a single sarin bomb would have killed anywhere from 600 to 900 people.
This is the age of ridiculous internet conspiracies about false flag attacks that make no real-world sense, but to me, it seems possible that the chemicals that afflicted Khan Shaykhun came from a rebel stockpile. They may have been released deliberately, to provoke a western reaction, or they may (as Russia claims) have been dispersed when a rocket hit a jihadi weapons dump – but I don’t think they came off the rack of one of Assad’s bombers.

One final point. A lot of the information about the symptoms of the attack and the number of casualties is coming from British medic Doctor Shajul Islam, who just happens to be working at a hospital in the town. The problem is that Shajul Islam isn’t a doctor. He was a doctor, but he was struck off in 2013 – and the reason for that is interesting. In 2012, he was arrested and charged with the kidnap of two westerners in Syria, on behalf of a jihadi group. The case collapsed because his victims, who had been rescued by the Free Syrian Army, didn’t turn up to give evidence; it later turned out that one had been murdered and the other had been kidnapped again (he’s still missing). However, the General Medical Council ruled that he’d been a very naughty boy and took away his medical license. So, is “Doctor” Islam the most reliable witness in the world? You decide.

Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.

Fergus Mason

Fergus Mason grew up in the west of Scotland. After attending university he spent 14 years in the British Army and served in Bosnia, Northern Ireland, Kosovo and Iraq. Afterwards, he went to Afghanistan as a contractor, where he worked in Kabul, Mazar-e-Sharif and Camp Leatherneck. He now writes on a variety of topics including current affairs and military matters.
Fergus Mason

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