On Friday April 7, hours after U.S. Tomahawk missiles struck Syria's Al-Shayrat air base on President Donald J. Trump's orders, the Russian Defense Ministry gave a presentation pointing out the 'low combat efficiency' of the American strikes. Coming as it did on the heels of the U.S. 'sending a message to Assad' over Assad's alleged use of chemical weapons Assad hasn't had (according to U.S. and Russian jointly certified UN inspectors) since they were destroyed in 2014-15, the Russians' message was intended as a blow to American pride. But was the relatively light damage strike compared to the hype that accompanied it intentional, as many 'Trump is in cahoots with Putin!' conspiracy theorists insist? Or was it a 4D chess move to fake out the warmongering legacy media and neocons, while 'sending China and North Korea a message' as true believers still on the Trump train contend? And then there's a third possibility: was the ineffectiveness of the Tomahawk strike the result of Russian electro-magnetic (ECM/EW) warfare of the same type both rumored by the new media and obliquely discussed by American military commanders (mostly in the context of the Ukraine war) since the USS Donald Cook incident three years ago?
The only way to evaluate these claims from the outside looking in is to look at results on the ground, just as the only way to assess Trump now is through evaluating his actions, not words.
According to Major General Igor Konashenkov, only 23 out of 59 Tomahawk TLAMs fired by two US Navy warships in the Mediterranean reached their intended target. For those keeping 'score', this is a rate of success abysmally lower than the much newer Russian Kalibr cruise missiles launched from the Caspian Sea at terrorist targets inside Syria (from which four allegedly crashed in Iran). The question remains: is the Ru MoD telling the truth? Because if they are, then the White House spokesman Sean Spicer is either misinformed or lying when he denies the Russian claims about the Tomahawks going astray. But if less than 50% of the Tomahawks made it to al-Shayrat, what happened to the rest of the Raytheon-manufactured missiles and why? If so many of the Tomahawks didn't hit the target, where did they go and why is there no evidence of any Russian attempt to intercept them via the S300/400 batteries around Kheimmim and Tartus (particularly at the latter location, where the Russians have established a repair pier for their Black Sea fleet)?
The drone footage the Russian Ministry of Defense shows in their presentation uploaded to YouTube and subtitled in English below appears to have been shot after the strike. The lack of cratered runways and taxiways is consistent with footage released by Russian and Syrian journalists who made it to the base after daybreak on Friday and filmed blast damaged hangars and bomb casings -- but no large craters of the concrete tarmac that would put the base out of commission for long.
The so-called Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), a one man NGO run out of an apartment in Coventry, England says that Syrian forces have resumed military flights from the facility, and pro-Syrian government forces Twitter accounts confirmed SU-22 and MiG-23 tactical bombers taking off from the base this weekend. While it's possible the Syrians recycled pre-strike footage of pilots and planes taking off from the facility in order to put up a good front, high ranking Syrian generals visiting the base after the attack claimed it had failed to achieve any lasting result.
These assessments of the relatively light damage, including an inability to confirm the number of aircraft the Pentagon claimed to have destroyed on the ground (many of which were likely not operational or under repair) leaves us with two explanations:
1) that the attack was carried out largely as a show of force with no real lasting consequences intended (since cratering the runway also would've justifiably opened Trump up to the charge that the U.S. had become ISIS and Al-Qaeda's air force, facilitating their advance in the area)
2) That Russian electronic warfare, with properties similar to or the same as 'off switch' reportedly activated against the USS Donald Cook, may have taken down several of the Tomahawk missiles.
While these two explanations seem contradictory, they aren't in fact mutually exclusive. While Secretary of State Rex Tillerson denies any consultation with the Kremlin or Russian Defense Ministry ahead of the strike, the DoD spokesman did say the Russians were informed via the deconfliction hotline for Syria. Translated, that means the Russians had several minutes to tell the Syrians to evacuate Al-Shayrat -- a fact which clearly upset the most fanatical Cold Warriors and Trump-RUSSIANS! crowd on Twitter, who would clearly prefer the Russians have launched Iskander missiles on the assumption they were under attack at a start of WWIII. Another key aspect of warning the Russians that the Tomahawks (whose launch their own radars along the coast if not satellites in orbit would've detected) were coming is this: knowing that the missiles were not headed near Kheimmim or over Lebanese air space would allow the Russians to roughly guesstimate the Tomahawks trajectory and where they'd make landfall-- even if the missiles were flying just off the deck, too low to be easily engaged by their S300/400 batteries.
In the Russia Analyst's 'high octane speculation', what happened next can be guessed: the Russian air defense commanders immediately phoned their superiors who awakened Putin around 3 in the morning Moscow time (if the Russian president slept at all that night). While the Russian commanders are authorized to defend themselves and their bases, they were awaiting orders on hit to kill intercept release, only to receive the command to turn on the Krasukha-4 electronic jammers parked near Latakia as well as the Russian naval facility at Tartus. Despite the order likely coming back to stand down and not launch SAMs, the Krasukhas did their work of blocking GPS signals to at least the trailing echelon of the Tomahawks passing within range of the Tonka-truck style emitters on or near the Syrian coast. While Tomahawks can operate on inertial guidance after losing GPS signals, powerful jamming may be capable of disrupting their circuitry.
What happened next between 3 and 4 a.m. Moscow time Friday would explain why so little wreckage of Tomahawks has been recovered: at least a few splashed into the Med just offshore, though at least one missile apparently came down without exploding near Tartus. The fact that Tomahawk launches are conducted in salvos with slightly varying warhead packages and pre-programmed routes, and Russian hesitation in turning on their jammers (which U.S. ELINT ships, aircraft and satellites all eagerly track), may account for the half of the missiles that got through the belated electronic wall of jamming after it was switched on. The next time however, with the Russian Navy's newer Admiral Grigorovich frigate parked at Tartus, armed with a naval version of the modernized BUK M1 SAM system, the results may be different.
One such vessel cannot provide air defense for the entire Syrian coast. However, the Grigorovich carries eight Kalibr cruise missiles of its own, capable of striking the 'moderate' jihadists or ISIS with deadly GLONAS aided accuracy minutes. If Putin wants to send the signal that he can strike Washington and Langley's beloved moderate rebels whenever he likes and any U.S.-declared no fly zone can't protect Idlib's jihadis from Russian low flying cruise missiles, then he will do so.
Back at the southern Mar a Lago White House, fresh off his meeting with Chinese president Xi Jingpeng punctuated by the missile strikes and determined to address claims that they were all for show, President Trump took to Twitter on Saturday, stating: "the reason you don't hit runways is that they're easy and inexpensive to quickly fix (fill in and top)!" The defensiveness of the Trump tweet, as his haters continued to insist that the warning given to the Russians (and thus the Syrians) made the whole strike a big show (albeit one that is costing The Donald dearly among his 'alt-right' or conserva-tarian supporters, to the mainstream media and #NeverTrump ers undisguised glee), was somewhat revealing.
Meanwhile, the Bellingcat fan boys crowd of social media 'open source' hacks were twisting themselves into knots trying to explain why the White Helmets responding to the alleged nerve agent attack that justified the strike wore no protective gear besides dust masks. Photos of old Soviet model cluster munition casings at al-Shayrat were seized upon by lying neocon hacks such as Jeffrey Lewis of the Arms Control Wonk blog, only to face ridicule from Syrians and non-Syrians alike as to why Assad's forces would leave chemical arms out in the open at the base in rusty casings. After being challenged by what he calls the 'Russian trolls', Lewis backtracked from his claim that the Syrians were idiotic (or suicidal) enough to leave nerve agent containing bomb casings rusting in plain sight for Russian and Syrian journalists to photograph when filming damage to the base. In short, Lewis confirmed once again that he's an idiot, as anyone who knows anything about Eliot Higgins and Bellingcat's methodology that Lewis endorsed when it came to MH17 already knew:
The related claim by U.S. National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster that the Tomahawk strikes were precise (and hence perhaps less damaging than advertised) in order 'to avoid a storage unit that was stockpiling the nerve agent in order to protect civilians' living near the base also appears false on both counts. There's zero evidence any chemical arms were stored at the facility -- if McMaster were telling the truth, that would imply either the weapons were moved to Al-Shayrat recently from another location, or the UN-mandated Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OCPW) inspectors missed the storage bunkers despite the U.S. providing them with satellite, signals or human intelligence of the weapons presence during the closing months of the Obama presidency. And at least a handful of Syrian civilians (including children) were reported by Syria's SANA news agency as killed by Tomahawks.
As for Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's remarks that the Russians were either dishonest about reigning in Assad's chemical weapons use or incompetent in doing so, we imagine Rex will get an earful in response -- including possible Russian intelligence concerning the 'moderate' jihadists own manufacture of deadly chlorine gas if not nerve agent toxins -- when he meets Sergey Lavrov in Moscow on Monday. Lavrov can also repeat, not only the fact that the White Helmets who were at the scene of the chemical attack are known to use the same 'crisis actors' over and over, but that they collaborate with Al-Qaeda:
The problem remains -- multi-million dollar Tomahawks fireworks 'show' or not, at least six Syrian military men and a small number of civilians are dead. Trump can no longer deflect blame to his advisers or plead ignorance about intelligence that the anti-Assad jihadists have manufactured and used chemical arms. Trump's tweets from 2013 opposing military action against Assad and campaign remarks casting doubt on the honesty and non-radicalism of the anti-Assad rebels will continue to haunt him. For whether he likes it or not, Trump has already destroyed a great deal of what was his greatest asset with 'deplorable' Americans: the sense that he was his own man, and not another blackmailed or bribed globalist puppet.
The Al-Shayrat strike did of course, change the mainstream media's relentless 'Trump and the RUSSIANS!' Narrative on a dime (well, with a few exceptions like P-MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell), revealinig how dishonest it was in the first place. But it came at the cost of alienating large portions of Trump's base who are now impatiently waiting to see if his UN Ambassador Nikki Haley's threats of further unilateral action will be carried out. The ancient term for such 'victories' is Pyrrhic, in that they proved ruinous to the victors.
UPDATE Palm Sunday 04/09/2017 6 a.m. EST: Late Saturday night Gateway Pundit picked up an important story from Mike Cernovich, the independent journalist who accurately reported on former Obama Administration National Security Adviser Susan Rice's unmasking and political targeting of Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn for removal as her successor. Cernovich reports that the man who replaced Flynn as National Security Adviser, H.R. McMaster, is calling for a large force of up to 150,000 men to not only march on the capital of the Islamic State's so-called Caliphate, but to occupy a large chunk of Syria (and possibly threatening what had been unthinkable since Russia's direct intervention in late 2015, a march on Damascus).
While it will no doubt be dismissed as more conspiracy theorizing and outlandish, Cernovich's reporting is consistent with the large concentrations of armor and equipment in desert camo observed moving through Europe to the Mideast ports of U.S. allies like Aqaba in Jordan. Amounts of equipment that seem excessive merely for the task of securing Raqqa and the surrounding Euphrates Valley while providing fire support to the Kurdish led Syrian SDF forces backed by the Pentagon. All it would take it seems, to justify Trump betraying all of his promises to stay out of the Mideast quagmire with a regime change operation in the minds of the neocons (who will never give up their objective of removing Assad and paving the way for a Qatari gas pipeline through the Levant) is a false flag chemical attack by Damascus on not just Syrian civilians, but American soldiers...