CENTCOM: One-Off Strike on Syria Not Intended to Destroy Airfield

The April 6 attack on a Syrian airfield was not intended to destroy the airfield, but was aimed at limiting the Syrian government’s ability to conduct operations “in the short term.” Fifty-nine Tomahawk missiles were fired at the Shayrat airfield near Homs, where earlier last week Syrian jets launched a chemical weapon attack on Syrian civilians.

The US attack destroyed fuel, hangars, weapons storage facilities, and fuel supplies. The US did not want to destroy the airfield, and did not target the airstrip itself, US Central Command spokesman Army Col. John Thomas said Monday. The direction from President Donald Trump was to degrade Syria’s ability to carry out chemical weapons attacks.

Defense Secretary James Mattis, in a Monday statement, said the strike was a “measured response” and aimed to deter future use of chemical weapons. The strike damaged or destroyed 20 percent of Syria’s operational aircraft, Mattis claimed.

“The Syrian government has lost the ability to refuel or rearm aircraft at Shayrat airfield and at this point, use of the runway is of idle military interest,” Mattis said. “The Syrian government would be ill-advised ever again to use chemical weapons.”

The mission was a “one off” and is not expected to be repeated, Thomas said.

Shortly after the strikes, Syrian jets were back in the air targeting rebel-held areas. Since the strike, US aircraft have slowed their operations inside Syria and commanders of Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve have been reviewing force protection and have not been on the offensive as much. The situation is “dynamic” and the slow rate of strikes is not expected to last, Thomas said.

Shortly after the strike, Russia announced it was suspending its involvement in the communication line it kept with US officials to deconflict operations over Syria. The day after the strike, the scheduled call between Russia and US was held as expected, but CENTCOM will not say if any more calls have taken place. However, there has been communication with Russia in other ways, including between pilots in the air, Thomas said.