Within a few hours of the US attack on Syria’s Sharyat air base the UK based Syrian Observatory on Human Rights is reported as saying that the Syrian authorities have “done the impossible” and brought the base back into operation, so that Syrian aircraft are once again using the base for operations against Jihadi groups.
This information – which appears to be true – suggests that Russian claims that the US missile strike was ‘inefficient’ and that only 23 of the 59 cruise missiles launched reached their target, and that the main runway of the base is undamaged, are true.
Shayrat air base is one of Syria’s most important air bases. It has never been overrun by the ‘Free Syrian army’, ISIS or any other Jihadi group, but has always remained under Syrian government control. With two large 3.000 metre runways – one paved for jet fighters, one asphalt for use by transport aircraft, it is a huge base, dwarfing in size Khmeimim air base, the much smaller civilian air strip which the Russians have converted into their base in Syria.
The events of the last week – both the Syrian air strike on Khan Sheikhoun which led to the claims of use of chemical weapons by the Syrian army, and the US missile strike which followed it – are connected to the Al-Qaeda Jihadi offensive in northern Hama. This was a major offensive bringing together allegedly as many as 10,000 Jihadi fighters, which appears to have been aimed at capturing the provincial capital, which is also called Hama.
Air strikes carried out by the Syrian air force from Sharyat air base have been crucial to the Syrian army’s efforts to repel this offensive, and the air strike on Khan Sheimoun seems to have been intended to strike at what the Syrian military believed was a Jihadi supply base used by the Jihadis in their offensive.
As with every claim made concerning atrocities supposedly carried out by the Syrian military during the Syrian war, the context of the air strike on Khan Sheimoun has gone completely unreported with the Western media failing to report the existence of the Jihadi offensive in Hama province even though the Middle East media has been buzzing with talk of it for weeks.
Suffice to say that at this stage in the war, with the Syrian military winning on every front, there are no logical reasons why the Syrian air force would carry out a terror raid with chemical weapons on Syrian civilians, and it is impossible to see what conceivable military purpose such a thing would serve. That there is no logic behind claims of a Syrian air force terror raid is shown by the fact that no one has provided any remotely credible explanation of why the Syrian military would carry out one.
In the event the Jihadis in Hama province seem to have failed to capitalise on the US air strike, and news that Sharyat air base is back in operation may in part explain why. Latest reports from the normally highly reliable Al-Masdar news agency suggest that far from the Jihadis successfully capitalising on the US missile strike, it is the Syrian army which is about to launch a counter-offensive in the area.
If the purpose of the US missile strike on Sharyat air base was to prevent the defeat of the Jihadi offensive in Hama province – seen by some as the Jihadis’ last throw in the Syrian war – then in and of itself it has failed.