The U.S. had no intention of changing the strategic balance of the conflict in Syria with the recent joint attack against the Bashar al-Assad regime, a high-ranking military official said Thursday.
“I don’t think we sought to change the strategic balance of the Syria conflict with those strikes,” Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, director of the Joint Staff, told reporters at a Pentagon press briefing.
“We sought to send a lesson that it’s bad practice to gas women and children,” he said.
Forces of the Assad regime struck targets in Douma district in the suburb of Eastern Ghouta earlier this month using a toxic gas which left at least 78 civilians dead, according to the Syrian Civil Defense, also known as the White Helmets.
Following the attack, the U.S., UK and France jointly launched strikes Friday night targeting the Assad regime’s chemical weapons capabilities in retaliation.
The strikes targeted a chemical weapons research center near Damascus, a chemical weapons warehouse and a command center related to chemical weapons located west of Homs, said U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Joseph Dunford.
Asked if the U.S. was confronted by Russia during the joint attack, McKenzie said even though Russia’s advanced S-400 air defense system was active and scanning, it did not engage with the U.S.-led coalition’s missiles.
“Russian air defenses were energized. They were scanning. They had a main state air defense aircraft up. They did not choose to engage, so I cannot speculate about why they did or did not do that,” he responded.
But the rest of Syria’s air defense capability, which was provided by Russia, engaged extensively and comprehensively failed, according to McKenzie.
Stating that the U.S.-led coalition planned and analyzed the operation in a way to prevent any chemical leakage out of the areas that were hit, he added that the coalition was successful, based on the fact that there were no casualties.
In response to a question about his thoughts on the Syrian regime’s response to the coalition missiles when the operation was conducted, McKenzie described it as “confused and chaotic”.
“They had no clear picture of what was actually happening to them,” he said, referring to the Assad regime.
“I would note that on the evening of the 16th, we noticed a spasm of Syrian air defenses where they again fired six surface-to-air missiles against no targets, and probably without any kind of fire direction, which means the missile goes ballistic, travels to either where it explodes in air, or continues forward. So that indicates a pretty serious dislocation of Syrian air defense,” he added.
Rejecting Moscow’s claim that Russia’s air defense system downed a majority of the missiles, Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White also said Russian-made air defenses operated by Syrian crews were completely useless.
“The Russian manufactured air defense systems were totally ineffective,” she said. “Russia and the regime demonstrated the ineffectiveness of their systems again two days later, when those systems engaged accidentally.”
The Damascus suburb of Eastern Ghouta has been under siege for the last five years. Humanitarian access to the area, which is home to 400,000 people, has been completely cut off.
Assad regime forces have intensified their siege, making it nearly impossible for food or medicine to get into the district and leaving thousands of civilians in need.