British media confirms that British air campaign in Syria has ground to a complete stop. US media confirms US air campaign in northern Syria has stopped following Russian anti aircraft missile deployments.
This post first appeared on Russia Insider
A few weeks ago I wrote a piece saying that all the fire and thunder in Britain about the Cameron government’s decision to bomb Syria was pointless, because the British military’s contribution to the Syrian war would be in military terms an irrelevance.
Events have fully borne that out.
The sum total of British military involvement in Syria amounts to three strike missions, all carried out within five days of the grant of parliamentary approval.
It seems no more than 19 bombs have been dropped in total - fewer than a Russian TU22M carries on a single strike.
Even that probably understates the difference since the TU22M can carry far heavier bombs than the bombs a British Tornado bomber can carry.
All of the bombs were dropped on a single facility - the Omar oilfield - which had already been bombed a month before by the US.
An article in the Daily Telegraph (attached below) exposes the extent of the fiasco, and confirms that there have been no British bombing raids on Syria since 6th December 2015.
The fact all three British strikes were on the Omar oilfield incidentally means that it cannot have been British aircraft that carried out the bombing raid on the Syrian air base at Deir az Zor.
The British government has not given a reason for the absence of any serious British bombing of the Islamic State in Syria since the theoretical start of the British bombing campaign.
The truth is that given the extent to which the British military - and those of France and Germany - are dwarfed by those of the US and Russia, any British contribution was always going to be a token affair.
However the frankly pathetic scale of the British bombing suggests there is more to it than that.
The article in the Daily Telegraph confirms it is not just British bombing in Syria that has ground to a virtual stop.
The article confirms that between 1st and 22nd December 2015 the US coalition carried out just 148 airstrikes in Syria.
That compares with the 164 combat sorties the Russians carried out during just one three day period in December (between 25th and 28th December 2015) and the more than 5,200 combat sorties the Russians have carried out since their bombing campaign in Syria began on 30th September 2015.
The Daily Telegraph claims that this absence of bombing sorties by the US and its allies in Syria is because of their supposed concern to avoid civilian casualties, and because of the absence of targets.
Despite predictable denials, the more likely explanation is the huge upgrade in Russian and Syrian air defences that has taken place since Turkey’s shooting down of the SU24 in November.
Not only have the Russians deployed the S400 anti aircraft missile system to Syria, but it seems the Russians have provided the Syrian military with advanced BUK anti aircraft missile systems, significantly upgrading Syria’s own air defences.
It is likely Russian “advisers” are “helping” the Syrians operate these systems. An article in Bloomberg implies that the BUK systems (referred to by their NATO designation “SAM-17”) are Russian operated.
Bloomberg says that US aircraft on bombing raids in Syria have been tracked (“painted”) by radars associated with the BUK system, causing the US to stop entirely its bombing raids in a part of northern Syria.
If so then that might explain why British bombing has also come to a stop.
Given how politically embarrassing it would be for the British - and the US - to admit the Russian presence in Syria is preventing US and British bombing in Syria, it is understandable why the US representatives consulted by the Daily Telegraph do not mention it, and have come up instead with the rather lame excuse that they are running out of targets.
Regardless of the true reason for the failure of the British - and US - bombing campaign, it is now more clear than ever that the only people who are really fighting the Islamic State and the various other terrorist jihadist groups in Syria are the Russians, the Syrians, their allies, and no-one else.
Britain's controversial air campaign in Syria has been branded a “non-event” after it emerged that the Air Force has carried out only one attack on the country in the last four weeks.
Since MPs voted for war over Syria on 1 December, more than a month ago, RAF Tornados and Typhoons have mounted only three strike missions – all in the first five days of the operation.
No RAF manned strikes have been conducted on any Syrian target since 6 December, 28 days ago, it can be revealed.
The only further strike was made on Christmas Day by an unmanned, remote-controlled Reaper drone, bringing the total number of British strike missions to four.
Figures released by US Central Command suggest that during their missions the Tornados and Typhoons may have dropped as few as 19 bombs.
The disclosures call into question claims by the Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon, at the beginning of the Syria operation that the UK was “really upping the tempo” with an “intense focus” on hitting infrastructure. He said that what he called the RAF’s “surge” would take Britain from the “periphery” to the “centre” of the air campaign.
Mr Fallon also claimed that the manned missions in the first week of December had been “successful” and had struck “a very real blow” against Isil.
In fact, however, all of the RAF manned missions were against a target, the Omar oilfield, which had already suffered “long-term incapacitation” at the hands of a much large American raid on October 21, six weeks before, according to a US military spokesman, Major Michael Filanowski, at a press briefing the following day.
Britain has carried out a number of further reconnaissance missions over Syria, and has continued to make airstrikes on Isil targets across the border in Iraq, both of which it was already doing before MPs voted last month.
“There is an almost complete disconnect between the heated political debate in Britainover Syria and what the Government has actually done,” said Jon Lake, a military aviation expert. “Britain’s air campaign in Syria so far is basically a non-event which can have had little, if any, impact on the balance of power on the ground.”
At a joint press conference with the US defense secretary, Ash Carter, in Washington on 11 December, Mr Fallon claimed that the RAF would be conducting “more precision strikes against key infrastructure,” including “the oil well heads, the ammunition depots, the logistics, the command and control, the supply routes between Syria and Iraq.”
However, this has not happened, partly because both nations, operating under stringent rules to guard against civilian casualties, have largely run out of Syrian targets.
On 1 December, the day Britain joined the air campaign over Syria, the main US spokesman, Colonel Steve Warren, said there had been no bombings so far that week because “we didn't have any targets over the last couple of days, or not enough targets”.
Between 1 December and 22 December, according to figures from US Central Command (Centcom), which is running the operation, American, British and other coalition aircraft carried out a total of 148 airstrikes on Syria, an average of just seven a day or 49 a week.
This is lower than the already very low strike rate in the 2011 Libya conflict, less than half the strike rate in the air campaign over Kosovo and a small fraction of the intensity seen in previous campaigns in Iraq.
General Mark Welsh, chief of staff of the US Air Force, said: “This is never going to look like the first Gulf War air campaign. That is just not the intent of the strategy that has been decided on, whether anyone agrees with that or not.”
Of the 148 airstrikes on Syria between 1 and 22 December, the United States carried out 127 and the “rest of coalition” 21, according to the Centcom figures.
It is known that French aircraft carried out two strikes in the period, meaning that no more than 19 strikes were carried out by the RAF.
A “strike” means that at least one bomb was dropped or missile fired.
British Ministry of Defence reports of the RAF’s three attack missions in Syria speak of them striking at least 17 targets.
The unmanned drone attack on December 25 involved firing a single Hellfire missile at an Isil checkpoint south of Raqqa.
The Ministry of Defence said that the RAF’s contribution to reconnaissance over Syria is more significant, with some reports that it is providing up to 60 per cent of the coalition’s entire tactical reconnaissance capability. It declined to specify the number of reconnaissance missions flown, however.
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