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After Joining US on Syria Strikes, France, UK Push for Allied Strategy

The Damascus sky lights up with missile fire as the U.S. launches an attack on Syria, targeting different parts of the capital early Saturday, April 14, 2018. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)
The Damascus sky lights up with missile fire as the U.S. launches an attack on Syria, targeting different parts of the capital early Saturday, April 14, 2018. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

France and Britain have called on the U.S. to join with them in pivoting off the missile strikes in Syria to form a long-term strategy aimed at a cease fire and a political settlement to the seven-year-old civil war.

In line with their push for a diplomatic solution, the two NATO allies have also urged the U.S. not to pull out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) to rein in Iran's nuclear programs.

President Donald Trump has repeatedly threatened to withdraw the U.S. from the JCPOA when it comes up for renewal next month, despite the potential for blowback from the Iranian-backed Hezbollah militias in Syria.

In their remarks since the stand-off weapons strike against Syria last Friday, both French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Theresa May have echoed Defense Secretary Jim Mattis in stating the need for a new allied strategy.

The strikes were aimed solely at the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad and underlined that now was "the time for all civilized nations to urgently unite in ending the Syrian civil war by supporting the United Nations-backed Geneva peace process," Mattis said shortly after Trump announced the attacks.

At the Pentagon press briefing with Mattis, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford noted the presence of the French and British military attaches in Washington, Brig. Gen. Jean-Pierre Montague and Attached Air Vice Marshal Gavin Parker.

At the same time in London, May said "I also want to be clear that this military action to deter the use of chemical weapons does not stand alone. We must remain committed to resolving the conflict at large. The best hope for the Syrian people remains a political solution."

In Paris, Macron and his Defense and Foreign Ministers made similar statements, and Macron asserted that he had changed Trump's mind about withdrawing from Syria in several of their phone conversations leading up to the attacks.

The White House later pushed back against the French president's take on the talks with Trump, but Macron said in a TV interview that "Ten days ago, President Trump wanted the United States of America to withdraw from Syria. We convinced him to remain."

Macron referred to Trump's statements in Tweets and in remarks to reporters that he wanted a withdrawal of the estimated 2,000 U.S. troops in Syria "very soon." The subject of U.S. withdrawal will be a main topic when Macron begins a state visit to the U.S. next Tuesday.

In agreeing to join with the U.S. in the Syria strikes, May faced opposition in parliament, and Macron in the French National Assembly, for failing to obtain legislative approval before authorizing the action.

Trump heard similar arguments from Democrats in Congress, who have called for a revision of the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) which sanctioned the war on terrorism after the 9/11 attacks.

Republicans and Democrats have also called for the U.S. to develop a long-term strategy for Syria in line with what the British and French are suggesting.

In a statement, Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, praised the decision to launch the strikes against suspected chemical weapons sites but added that "to succeed in the long run, we need a comprehensive strategy for Syria and the entire region."

Both Macron and May said their militaries suffered no losses or mishaps in the precision strikes last Friday night that hit three suspected Syrian chemical weapons sites with a total of 105 missiles that all found their targets within two minutes.

 

A First in Combat

For France, it was the first time that the Missile de Croisière Naval (MdCN) ship-launched cruise missile had been used in combat. The French frigate Languedoc In the eastern Mediterranean fired three of the MdCN cruise missiles naval cruise missiles.

Four British Tornado GR4 fighters, escorted by Typhoon fighters, flew out of the Royal Air Force base in Akrotiri, Cyprus to fire a total of eight Storm Shadow land attack missiles. The Storm Shadow missiles were first used by the British in the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

French Gen. Francois Lecointre said during a media a briefing that the French Air Force deployed five Rafale fighters, supported by four Mirage 2000 fighters, two airborne warning and control systems (AWACs) aircraft, and six in-flight refueling jets.

Lecointre said the Rafales and Mirages flew from French air bases but declined to say where they were. He said the pilots flew for 10 hours and the aircraft were refueled five times in flight.

Lecointre, chief of the Defense Staff, said the Rafales fired a total of nine SCALP cruise missiles, the French version of the Storm Shadow.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said the strikes could set the stage for a long-term political settlement, if Russia agrees to back negotiations.

"We now have to hope that Russia will understand that, after the military response against Syria's arsenal, we need to join forces to promote a political process in Syria enabling an end to the crisis," said Le Drian, who is close to Mattis.

"France is ready to help achieve that," Le Drian told the Journal du Dimanche, "except that what is blocking the process today is Bashar al-Assad himself. It is up to Russia to put pressure on him."

At the United Nations Security Council Tuesday, Russian Amb. Vasily Nebenzya said the missile strikes had greatly diminished the prospects for peace talks.

"Before airstrikes, we noted the readiness of the Syrian government to participate in the Geneva negotiations," Nebenzya said. "Now, these efforts have been set back considerably."

Republicans and Democrats also emerged from a closed briefing with Mattis and Dunford Wednesday with little confidence that the Trump administration would seek to develop a long-term strategy for Syria.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, said the administration appeared willing to "to give Syria to Assad, Russia, and Iran."

"I think Assad, after this strike, believes we're all tweet and no action," he said, according to a CNN report.

Sen Chris Coons, D-Delaware, said "The only thing worse than a bad plan on Syria is no plan on Syria, and the president and his administration have failed to deliver a coherent plan on the path forward."

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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