U.S. Air Force F-15s dropped seven 500-pound, GPS-guided bombs on Iranian proxy fighters in eastern Syria on Thursday night. Tomahawk cruise missiles were not used. They were not needed. The fighters killed were also most likely not even Syrians.
The strike was a “shot across the bow” and warning to Iran, as Fox News’ Jennifer Griffin reported last night. The Air Force jets bombed an area that has not been governed by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces since the civil war began. It’s one of the reasons American troops have been able to deploy there next to the Iraq border in recent years to fight ISIS relatively undisturbed.
Syrian and Russian forces are not deployed where U.S. jets struck last night. They have not been there for nearly a decade. It’s a desert region on the other side of the country from Damascus and coastal areas where the vast majority of Syrians live. (Syria is about 1.5 times the size of Pennsylvania.)
In April 2017, then-President Donald Trump approved a Tomahawk cruise missile strike against Assad’s regime after chemical weapons were used to kill Syrian civilians. Fifty-nine Tomahawk missiles were launched from two U.S. warships to destroy an airbase used the Syrian military. U.S. intelligence said the base, located on the Mediterranean coast, was used to launch the chemical attack.
Trump approved a second Tomahawk strike a year later to destroy Assad’s chemical weapons laboratories, the “Pentagon” of Syria’s chemical weapons program. French and British forces joined in that effort, as well. U.S. warships in the Red Sea and as far away as the Persian Gulf launched missiles into Syria.
The April 2018 strike marked the combat debut for the Virginia-class submarine. USS John Warner launched six Tomahawks from the Mediterranean into Syria. She then dove and prepared to sink any Russian warships should they take action against any U.S. Navy ships in the area including one that was acting as a decoy and didn’t launch missiles into Syria, that last part has never been reported before.
Those two strikes in April of 2017 and 2018 were the first time the U.S. military has struck Assad’s forces in Syria after critics said Obama backed down from enforcing his red line on chemical weapons.
A better comparison for this week’s strike in Eastern Syria is when Trump approved the U.S. military to launch airstrikes in that same area in December 2019 when an American contractor was killed in a rocket attack in Iraq days prior. Air Force F-15s were also used in that strike destroying Iranian-backed fighters in both eastern Syria and western Iraq.
On Jan. 3, 2020, an American drone orbiting over Baghdad’s international airport killed Iranian Quds Force commander Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani along with Iranian-backed militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis. Top U.S. military officials said Soleimani was responsible for killing hundreds of American troops during the Iraq War. They said Soleimani was also responsible for the spate of rocket attacks against U.S. bases and the embassy in Iraq.
The distinction between the Trump-era strikes and the one this week comes to light as one lawmaker, Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., tweeted criticism of President Biden on Friday, also accusing him of launching “tomahawk missiles” into Syria, writing: “What is the proper pronoun for the tomahawk missiles that Joe Biden launched at Syrians last night?”