US officials say Syrian government moved planes to following US cruise missile strike
It's estimated some 20% of Syria's operational combat planes were destroyed in the attack
The Syrian government has relocated the majority of its combat planes to protect them from potential US strikes, two US defense officials told CNN Wednesday.
The movement of the aircraft to the air base at Bassel Al-Assad International Airport began shortly after the US’s April 6 Tomahawk cruise missile strike on Sharat air base, which destroyed some 24 Syrian warplanes in retaliation for a chemical weapons attack that the US says Syria launched from that airfield.
The move places the Syrian aircraft in close proximity to Russia’s Khmeimim Air Base – where the majority of Russian air forces helping ally Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime are based – in Latakia Governorate, Syria.
One US defense official said that the warplanes moved appeared to be most if not all of the Syrian government’s operational aircraft.
The Khmeimim base, along with a naval facility in Tartus, is one of the two of the primary Russian military installations in Syria. The Russians have reportedly stationed advanced anti-aircraft missile systems at the base.
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The regime in Damascus may be calculating that the US would be more reluctant to strike in close proximity to the Russian troops and their anti-aircraft systems.
The US warned Moscow via a pre-established military-to-military communications channel in advance of its April 6 cruise missile strike in order to prevent any Russian casualties. It came days after Syria’s rebel-held Khan Sheikhoun area of Idlib province experience a chemical weapons attack that killed more than 70 civilians.
The director general for the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, Ambassador Ahmet Üzümcü, said Wednesday that analysis of samples from victims of the Khan Sheikhoun attack showed “incontrovertible” results that “sarin or a sarin-like substance” was used in the attack.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov speaks on Friday, April 7, during a news conference in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. Responding to a US missile strike on a Syrian airbase, he said, "I am particularly disappointed by the way this damages US-Russia relations. I don't think this will lead to an irreversible situation."
German Chancellor Angela Merkel attends a refugee relief panel at an event honoring volunteers in Berlin. In a statement Friday Merkel said, "This attack by the United States of America is understandable, given the aspect of the war crimes, given the suffering of innocent people and given the logjam in the UN Security Council."
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks to reporters in Tokyo. "The Japanese government supports the US government's resolve that it will never tolerate the spread and use of chemical weapons," he said.
Copies of the Japanese daily newspaper Nikkan Gendai at a railway station in Tokyo show pictures of President Trump.
Mustafa Kurt/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu speaks to the media in Antalya, Turkey. He welcomed Friday's US airstrike on Syria, according to a statement.
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull speaks during a news conference in Sydney. He said Australia "strongly supports the swift and just response of the US" to the recent chemical attack in Syria's Idlib province. He added that Australia was "not involved in the strike" but was informed by the US about the action shortly before it was carried out.
Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni speaks at a news conference in Rome. The country's foreign minister, Angelino Alfano, said in a statement that the US military action in Syria was "proportionate and well-timed."
PHILIPPE DESMAZES/AFP/Getty Images
French President Francois Hollande delivers a speech in Annonay, France, about the situation in Syria. United Nations action is required to address the conflict in Syria and to prevent the use of chemical weapons, he said, adding that he hopes negotiations might still lead to a peaceful transition.
Iranians shout anti-US slogans after a Friday prayer ceremony in Tehran, following a US airstrike in Syria. Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi said Iran "strongly condemns" President Trump's military strike against the Syrian government, according to Iran's semi-official news agency ISNA. Iran also "condemns any use of chemical weapons no matter who uses it or who the victims are," he said.
Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka holds a news conference in Prague, Czech Republic. Sobotka expressed his support for President Trump's launch of missile strikes.
US defense officials have previously said that the its retaliatory strike incapacitated some 20% of the regime’s operational fixed-wing aircraft, making the preservation of the remaining planes of the utmost importance to Damascus.
“The Syrian Air Force is not in good shape. It’s been worn down by years of combat plus some … significant maintenance problems,” Secretary of Defense Gen. James Mattis told reporters at the Pentagon.
The US has not ruled out additional strikes against the regime should it opt to use chemical weapons in the future.
“The Syrian regime should think long and hard before it again acts so recklessly in violation of international law against the use of chemical weapons,” Mattis said, later adding: “If they use chemical weapons, they are going to pay a very, very stiff price.”