President Obama’s televised speech yesterday on US action to fight IS (Islamic State / ISIS / ISIL / DAESH) in Syria as well as in Iraq was preceded by a White House dinner with a bipartisan group of foreign policy experts, amongst other communications efforts. Missing from the speech, from dinner reports, from briefings by government spokespeople named and unnamed, was any mention of measures to stop the Assad regime’s ongoing bombing campaign against Syrian civilians.
The Violations Documentation Center in Syria has recorded over 13,200 individuals killed by Assad’s air attacks to date. That’s a minimum count of confirmed killings compiled by one organisation, not the total number killed. Of those, the vast majority were civilians: 12,661 to date, a number likely higher by the time you click on the link. This killing is ongoing: 260 of those civilians were recorded killed in the first ten days of this month.
Assad’s air war is not just a deliberate ongoing threat to civilians, it is also a major threat to the US strategy for fighting IS because that strategy relies on partnering with Syrian opposition forces, and also on establishing inclusive functioning governments in both Iraq and Syria to provide security for all sections of their populations. “A government that can protect them. A government that makes sure that their families are safe…”
Now that Obama has committed the US to fighting IS in Syria by means of both US strikes and greater support for Syrian opposition forces fighting IS on the ground, immediate measures should be taken to stop Assad’s attacks.
The US should declare that Assad’s air attacks are not only an ongoing breach of UN Security Council Resolution 2139, but are also a threat to US allies in the fight against IS, and a threat to US air operations against IS, and consequently the US should demand the immediate grounding of all military flights by Assad regime aircraft. Any further action by Assad aircraft should be punished by attacks on regime air assets: aircraft, airfields, ammunition stores, and air defences.
This would in effect impose a No-Fly Zone, not by the continuous patrol means seen in the 1990s in Bosnia and Iraq, nor by eradication as seen in Libya, but by means of deterrence and retaliation. This would be both safer and cheaper than other NFZ options.
Failure to take action against regime bombing of civilians would undermine support for US action against IS amongst the Syrian population, as well as exposing US allies amongst the Syrian opposition to avoidable danger. Furthermore, allowing regime air attacks on civilians to continue alongside US air attacks on IS would risk the US being blamed for deaths and injuries caused by the regime.
- No-Fly Zone options: Reasons for favouring a limited strike option
- Enforce United Nations Security Council Resolution 2139
- Stop the barrel bombs: A moral and legal responsibility to use force
- Transcript: President Obama’s speech outlining strategy to defeat Islamic State
Washington Post, 10 September 2014.
- Obama ready to strike at Islamic State militants in Syria, he tells policy experts
Juliet Eilperin and David Nakamura, Washington Post, 9 September 2014.
- Transcript: President Obama’s Aug. 28 remarks on Ukraine, Syria and the economy
Washington Post, 28 August 2014.
- The Violations Documentation Center in Syria
- VDC document 3,000 Child Victims Of Airstrikes
Syria Statistical & Video Documentation @lopforum, 18 June 2014.
- Denying Flight: Strategic Options for Employing No-Fly Zones
Paper by Karl P. Mueller, RAND Corporation, 2013 (PDF).
- Airpower Options for Syria: Assessing Objectives and Missions for Aerial Intervention
by Karl P. Mueller, Jeffrey Martini, Thomas Hamilton, RAND Corporation, 2013.
- A Syrian No Fly Zone: Options and Constraints
Event at the US Institute of Peace, 29 May 2013, with Ambassador Frederic C. Hof, Lt. General David A. Deptula, USAF (Ret.), Jon Alterman, Joseph Holliday, and Steven Heydemann.
- Strategic Horizons: For Syria No-Fly Zone, Less Is More
Steven Metz looks at limited-objective options for a no-fly zone, World Politics Review, 3 July 2013.
- Syrian Air-Defense Capabilities and the Threat to Potential U.S. Air Operations
Chandler P. Atwood and Jeffrey White, The Washington Institute, 23 May 2014.