There are some new developments in the Syrian conflict that will undoubtedly be used as ammunition for proponents of a no fly zone over parts of that country. You can read more about the case for a Syrian no fly zone, and the military options on available, in a recent Aviationintel piece linked here. The three new developments that have to be taken into account concerning this topic are as follows:
- IRAN IF FLYING IN MILITARY HARDWARE INTO SYRIA TO SUPPORT ASSAD VIA IRAQI AIRSPACE: By all accounts, Assad still controls the vast majority of the Syrian Air Force and the country’s air defense oriented missile units, and seeing how there is absolutely no deterrence from foreign powers via a no fly zone over Syria, Iran has been flying arms and logistical support directly to Assad’s forces in an attempt to bolster his weakening rule. What makes the situation worse is that Iraq, which absolutely lacks any tactical aircraft capable of defending its own borders, has been more prone to cozying up to Iran than to interdict its military operations, nothing is being done to stop the overflights. The US wanted to keep a contingent of US fighters in the country until Iraq’s F-16s had arrived and its pilots had been deemed up to snuff, but the military pact that would have allowed that to happen was rejected by the Al-Malaki Government. Sadly, America was stupid enough not to just give Iraq a handful of F-16s years ago, as we were in that country for over eight years. A similar situation will happen in Afghanistan when it comes to air support for its own ground forces once the US pulls out, as the USAF continues to bungle the Light Air Support (LAS) procurement initiative which will now most likely only see aircraft deployed too late to make a difference. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/05/world/middleeast/iran-supplying-syrian-military-via-iraq-airspace.html?pagewanted=all
- ASSAD HAS MOVED SOME OF HIS WMD ARSENAL AND NOBODY CAN GIVE A STRAIGHT ANSWER AS TO WHY: This is a huge deal, as reported in my piece linked above, the US and our allies may not have choice to intervene in Syria if a power vacuum takes hold, as that country’s large WMD stockpile could get looted and wind up in the hands of virtually any irrational actor in the region. Conversely, Assad could use these weapons as a last-ditch effort to pacify his own populous. We saw this in Iraq during the mid 1990’s and said “never again.” Sadly, that position may be worth its weight in air as we are currently doing nothing to directly stop this from happening. If it does happen our response will come too late. In this case some say that Assad’s forces are moving the weapons to keep them more secure, while others say that they have no clue exactly why these weapons are being moved. Considering the blurry answers surrounding the Benghazi Consulate attack by the Obama Administration (read more here), I don’t think we can take anything that comes from administration officials (aside from maybe SecDef Penetta) as fact, as it is clear that currently everything is being done to nullify the public’s impression of growing foreign policy troubles during the end-game of the election. http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2012/09/28/panetta-says-intelligence-shows-syria-moved-some-chemical-weapons/
- ASSAD IS USING “BARREL BOMBS” AGAINST HIS OWN PEOPLE: These are nasty improvised explosive devices that can be dropped from planes or helicopters. Basically they are a mix of TNT, fuel and shrapnel, such as nails and bolts, that are meant almost exclusively to kill and maim people. Furthermore, these weapons are indiscriminate and highly inaccurate. This is a sign of just how desperate and brutal this situation has become. Compared to Libya, the threat to innocents from the air is not even equatable. The next step for Assad would be fire-bombing cities or using WMD against rebel held areas, not good to say the least. Politically speaking, although getting involved with the Syrian is unpopular, having pictures stream out of that country of thousands of innocents killed by nerve agents will be far, far worse.
Once the election is over here in the US I think that the chances of intervention in the Syrian conflict will go up dramatically, as the alternative of doing something to late, or nothing at all, may be totally unacceptable and could lead to a wider conflict. This does not mean we need to follow the Libyan model, there are other ways of evening the playing field for the rebels and protecting innocent lives from airborne bombardment, while also keeping a close watch on Syrian WMD stockpiles, than conducting a prolonged air to ground campaign. Once again, please read my past article for more information about this precarious situation: http://aviationintel.com/2012/08/27/no-fly-zone-over-syria-good-idea-or-bad-idea/
We shall see what the foreign policy Presidential debate brings out of the candidates regarding this issue later this month, lets just hope that the situation in Syria does not change dramatically for the worse in the meantime. Stay tuned for further developments…