US, French Forces Assume Positions off Syrian Coast

The USS Barry, which is currently positioned in off the Syrian coast, is shown launching a Tomahawk cruise missile in support of Operation Odyssey Dawn in 2011

It is now widely assumed that the 155th Brigade of the 4th Armored Division was the Syrian Army unit responsible for launching the chemical weapons attack on a Damascus suburb on Aug. 21, leading some pundits to advise that any US/French strike focus on that unit.

Writing in The National Interest on Friday, professor Timothy Hoyt of the US Naval War College said that the Obama administration should “focus strikes on the 4th Armored Division. Make it clear that the unit is being punished for violating the norm against chemical weapons use. Destroy the headquarters, eliminate as much of the unit as possible, and make the message clear—units which resort to chemical weapon use will face a similar response in the future.”

And any strike on the unit would hit close to home for Syrian dictator Bashir Assad. His younger brother, Maher al-Assad, commands both the regime’s Republican Guard as well as the 4th Armored Division, so the strike would not only hurt the military, but presumably, the Assad family itself.

On Friday, the International Institute for Strategic Studies published an Order of Battle for how US, French, and Syrian forces are stacking up.

On land, there are seven Patriot missile batteries in Turkey and Jordan that would be able to counter at least an element of any Syrian strike on its neighbors. The US controls two batteries in Turkey and one in Jordan, while The Netherlands and Germany operate the other four batteries to the north in southern Turkey.

The US Air Force also has six F-16 fighters in Jordan, and at least four unarmed Predator drones at the Incirlik Air Base close to the Syrian border in Turkey.

While the Jordanians have recently said that no military assault on Syria would be launched from their soil, the government in Istanbul has gone quiet in recent days — but is widely assumed to be working backchannels with the Assad regime.

On the sea, the US has deployed four Arleigh-Burke class destroyers equipped with Tomahawk missiles:

USS Mahan

USS Gravely

USS Stout

USS Ramage

There are also American three nuclear-powered guided missile submarines:

USS Missouri

USS Helena

USS Missouri

France has also deployed two destroyers and a nuclear-powered submarine, and the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier is ready for service after being refit in Toulon.

Defense News’ Wendell Minnick posted a story on Friday  outlining how any strike would also test the quality of the long-range surveillance radar systems that the Syrians bought from the Chinese.

Our own Zachary Fryer Biggs also posed a must-read about the role that US Cyber forces would play in the conflict, but probably won’t – since the risks vs. potential rewards would be too great.

As of Saturday morning, the Obama administration was still busily trying to build up Congressional support for military action, with Secretary of State John Kerry, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and others hitting the phones on a series of conference calls with members of the Senate, where the issue of strikes against Syria has been widly unpopular among both parties.

Reports say that it’s expected that the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. James Winnefeld, James Clapper, director of national intelligence, and the president’s national security advisor Susan Rice will also participate in the calls.

UN weapons inspectors left Damascus on Saturday morning, and with night beginning to fall on the Syrian capital, the waiting continues.


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Paul McLeary

McLeary covers national security policies at the White House, Pentagon, the Hill, and State Department.
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