Arthur J. Villasanta – Fourth Estate Contributor
Washington, DC, United States (4E) – Russia will unleash a wave of cyberattacks on the United States, the United Kingdom and France as early as this week to avenge the humiliation inflicted on it by the three Western Allies’ successful cruise missile bombardment of Syria’s chemical weapons facilities last April 14.
Russia stood idly by as the Western Allies unleashed 105 sea- and air-launched cruise missiles at three major chemical weapons sites located in Damascus and the city of Homs to the north. No Russian installations were hit, robbing Russia of a “casus belli” to defend Syria with its air defense systems.
But the severest blow to Russia was to the pride of Vladimir Putin, who promised a Russian response if the U.S. struck Syria. The attack was a slap to Putin’s face since the Russian leader counted on his threat of reprisals as enough to deter the attack. That gambit failed.
Putin’s first response to the air and sea attacks was to call the strikes “an act of aggression against a sovereign state that is at the forefront of the fight against terrorism.”
“The current escalation of the situation around Syria has a devastating impact on the whole system of international relations,” said Putin. “History will put everything in its place, and it has already laid heavy responsibility on Washington for bloody reprisals against Yugoslavia, Iraq and Libya.”
British intelligence services are now warning of an imminent Russian cyber-retaliation following the attacks. Russia will likely use what it calls “kompromat” operations to reveal embarrassing information about British ministers, MPs and other high-profile public figures. Much of this information will be “fake news” spread on social media sites such as vk.com, Russia’s government-controlled version of Facebook.
GCHQ, the UK’s cyber-intelligence agency, and the Ministry of Defense have warned Prime Minister Theresa May that risk assessments from MI6 indicate Russian-backed hackers will reveal compromising material — or “kompromat” — targeting some members of her Cabinet.
The UK said its intelligence services will retaliate “proportionately.” Its cyber-warriors have “pre-positioned” within the computer networks of Russian targets should Moscow target critical facilities such as the National Grid and the NHS, both of which are on high alert for cyber-attacks. Russia’s forthcoming counterattack will be the first phase in a complex operation designed to avenge its humiliation on April 14.
The three allies fired 105 air- and sea-launched cruise missiles at three sites, according to Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, Director of the Joint Staff (DJS) at the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff. Attacked and destroyed were the Barzeh research and development center in northern Damascus; the Him Shinshar storage site (west of Homs) and the Him Shinshar bunker, also west of Homs.
Barzeh was almost completely destroyed by a hail of 57 Tomahawk and 19 JASSM-ER missiles. The Him Shinshar storage site was obliterated by 9 Tomahawk; 8 British Storm Shadow/SCALP cruise missiles; 3 MdCN and 2 French Storm Shadow/SCALP missiles while the Him Shinshar bunker was blasted by 7 French Storm Shadow/SCALP missiles.
The Tomahawks fired from U.S. Navy warships were either the BGM-109C Tomahawk Land Attack Missile- Conventional (TLAM-C) or the RGM/UGM-109E Tomahawk Land Attack Missile (TLAM Block IV). Two U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancer supersonic bombers launched AGM-158 JASSM-ER (Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile-Extended Range) that each carry a 450 kg warhead. This mission was the first time JASSM-ER was used in combat. Storm Shadow, whose French version is called SCALP, is a low-observable air-launched cruise missile carrying a 450 kg wrhead.
“Important infrastructure was destroyed which will result in a setback for the Syrian regime. They will lose years of research and development, storage and equipment,” said Gen Joseph Dunford, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in a briefing held a few hours after the attack.
Lt. Gen said Syria’s air defense system was ineffective, and managed to launch some 40 Russian-made surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) at the cruise missiles. None of the Syrian SAMs hit a single cruise missile, he said. Russia later said Syria used its Pantsir-S1, S-125, S-200, Buk and Kvadrat SAMs in its failed attempt to shoot down the western cruise missiles.
The Royal Air Force deployed four Panavia Tornado GR4 multirole fighters armed with Storm Shadow cruise missiles to attack targets located at Homs, said the UK Ministry of Defense. The Tornados were protected by four Eurofighter Typhoon multirole fighters.
“The UK element of the carefully coordinated joint action was contributed by four Royal Air Force Tornado GR4s,” said the Ministry in a statement. “They launched Storm Shadow missiles at a military facility — a former missile base — some 15 miles west of Homs, where the regime is assessed to keep chemical weapon precursors stockpiled in breach of Syria’s obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention.”
The Tornados deployed from RAF Akrotiri, the Royal Air Force base on Cyprus in the eastern Mediterranean. The twin-engine Tornado GR4 is the UK’s main ground-attack aircraft. Storm Shadow carries a 400 kilogram warhead out to 400 kilometers.
Prime Minister Theresa May said she “authorized British armed forces to conduct coordinated and targeted strikes to degrade the Syrian Regime’s chemical weapons capability and deter their use.” She described the attack as “successful” but the extent of this success will be determined by the bomb damage assessment of the targeted sites. Syria is claiming — hilariously — it shot down 70 percent of the cruise missiles launched against it.
U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis said the attack sent a clear message to Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad that his use of chemical weapons against his people will be punished and won’t be tolerated by the West.
Five Dassault Rafale multirole fighters carrying cruise missiles launched SCALP cruise missiles at their targets escorted by escorted by five Dassault Mirage III fighters flying from bases in France. The office of French President Emmanuel Macron posted video on Twitter showing Rafales taking-off for the Syria mission.
French President Emmanuel Macron said he “ordered the French armed forces to intervene” after a “red line set by France” on the use of chemical weapons was crossed. Donald Trump stated the same reason.
“I ordered the United States armed forces to launch precision strikes on targets associated with the chemical weapon capabilities of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad,” announced Trump at the White House.
Trump said the strikes were in coordination with France and the United Kingdom. He noted that the purpose of the campaign is to “establish a strong deterrent against the production, spread and use of chemical weapons.”
“The combined American, British and French response to these atrocities will integrate all instruments of our national power: military, economic and diplomatic.”
The coordinated precision attack by the allies was launched in the aftermath of the Syrian government’s use of chlorine gas to massacre dozens of men, women and children in Douma on April 7 in total violation of international law and United Nations Security Council resolutions. All three allies emphasized the attacks were intended to punish Syria for this attack and to deter this government from ever using chemical weapons again on its own people.
Seven TLAM cruise missiles were fired from the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer USS Laboon (DDG-58), and 30 from the Ticonderoga-class cruiser USS Monterey (CG-61) from the Red Sea. The Arleigh Burke-class destroyer USS Higgins (DDG-76) fired 23 TLAMs from a position the Persian Gulf, while the Virginia-class submarine USS John Warner (SSN-785) launched six Tomahawk from the Mediterranean Sea.
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