Home' Asia Pacific Defence Reporter : APDR October 2016 Contents 4 Asia Pacific Defence Reporter OCT 2016
What a difference a week makes. Only
seven days ago there were reasons for
a tiny level of optimism that the Syrian
ceasefire might have acted as a circuit breaker in the
five year old conflict. That prospect now seems to
be in tatters with not only the warring parties on the
ground but now also the United States and Russia
trading accusations – especially over the bombing of
an aid convoy outside Aleppo on September 20.
For the first 24 hours the criticism of the airstrike,
which has caused the U.N. to halt all humanitarian
efforts, was indirect – but as Russian and Syrian
denials became less credible the finger pointing really
started. It was always way too cute for the Russians
and Syrians to claim that the terrorists did it when
they were still smarting from a coalition airstrike – with
Australian involvement – that killed more than 60
government troops only two days before the attack on
Despite considerable disinformation from Moscow,
it now seems almost certain that the Russian aircraft
that had the relief trucks under surveillance decided
for whatever reason to also attack them. The U.S . and
then the Secretary General of the United Nations Ban
Ki-moon have said that there is no other explanation.
While nothing has been said publicly, it is highly
likely that U.S . AWACs are continually monitoring
Syrian airspace, along with the occasional foray from
allied assets, including the RAAF’s ‘Wedgetail’ that is
part of the Operation Okra deployment. This sort of
surveillance is routine and vital because of the need to
de-conflict aircraft on various strike assignments.
On the day in question, coalition aircraft undertook
the following combat missions:
Near Abu Kamal, two strikes destroyed two ISIL oil
tanker trucks and an oil tanker trailer and damaged
three supply routes.
Near Al Shadaddi, one strike destroyed an ISIL
Near Ar Raqqah, two strikes destroyed an ISIL
VBIED factory and an oil tanker truck.
Near Ayn Isa, three strikes engaged two ISIL
tactical units and destroyed a vehicle, a command
and control node, and an artillery system.
Near Mar'a, eight strikes engaged five ISIL tactical
units and destroyed seven fighting positions,
three IEDs, three vehicles, a mortar system, and a
command and control node.
Near Al Huwayjah, two strikes destroyed two ISIL
Near Al Qaim, one strike destroyed an ISIL
Near Mosul, three strikes engaged two ISIL
tactical units and destroyed two vehicles, a
fighting position, a mortar system, and two tunnel
Near Qayyarah, two strikes engaged an ISIL
tactical unit and destroyed an improvised weapons
facility, a VBIED factory, an ISIL headquarters
building, and two vehicles and suppressed a
rocket launcher system.
Near Ramadi, two strikes destroyed an ISIL
headquarters building, a mortar system, two supply
caches, and four rocket rails.
Near Sinjar, one strike destroyed an ISIL vehicle
and suppressed a mortar system.
• Near Sultan Abdallah, one strike engaged
an ISIL tactical unit and destroyed a medium
machine gun and suppressed a rocket-propelled
Each of these missions is likely to have been
conducted by multiple combat aircraft, most probably
supported by aerial tankers – again, including the
and controlled by AWACs and /
or our own E-7C. Aleppo is way in the north of the
country – but so, too, is the self styled Islamic State
capital Raqqa. The distance between Aleppo and
Raqqa is 170km and a high flying asset such as an
AWACs has a radar field of view of several hundred
kilometres and it seems unlikely that Russian or Syrian
aircraft could have remained invisible. Another target
of coalition airstrikes was Mar’a, which is even closer.
The unfortunate reality seems to be that all of
the parties to the short-lived truce simply used the
time to rearm, resupply and have a rest. For a brief
moment it seemed as if the U.S . and Russia were
cooperating closely to put pressure on their various
clients and surrogates. It was hoped that Russia in
particular could exercise some control over the Syrian
Government to make them at least temporarily obey
the terms of the ceasefire. It now appears that those
hopes have evaporated.
It is difficult in these circumstances to hold out
much prospect of peace because the entrenched
hatreds have become even worse, as hard as that
is to believe. A complete military victory for any of
the parties seems impossible. Russia and Iran –
supported by Hezbollah in Lebanon – will not allow
the Government of Bashar al-Assad to fall. On the
other side the Saudis and Gulf states will continue
to fund anti-Government forces. Into the mix comes
Turkey, which has finally stepped up its opposition to
the Islamic State, but only insofar as it allows them to
get at their true enemy, the Kurds.
Eventually some form of war weariness must set
in, but who knows when? The French and English
slugged it out in the Hundred Years War. Europe was
torn apart in the 17th century by the Thirty Years War.
The Syrian conflict might still have some time to go –
and eventually Australians might start to wonder for
how long are we going to remain involved in it all.
KYM BERGMANN // CANBERRA
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THE SYRIAN MESS
22/09/2016 4:55 PM
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