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The Big Picture In Syria


Today, the Pentagon gave new details about U.S. airstrikes and British and French airstrikes on targets in Syria last night. They say the strikes will set Syria's chemical weapons program back for years. Retired U.S. Air Force Lieutenant General David Deptula joins us. General, thanks very much for being with us.

DAVID DEPTULA: Hey, yeah, thanks, Scott, great to be here.

SIMON: What's your assessment of the success of the strikes based on what you've been able to learn from the Pentagon briefing and perhaps other places?

DEPTULA: Well, I guess I would have to agree with Lieutenant General McKenzie's summary this morning when he characterized the attacks as precise, number one, overwhelming, number two, and a highly effective, number three. This was obviously a response into Assad and his supporters in Russia and Iran violating the international conventions on the use of chemical weapons. It was a proportional step, and it was a gradual one in that it still, while seeking to deter Assad from using chemical weapons in the future, leaves open the potential of increasing the pressure if he doesn't.

SIMON: But there were several days between the president's initial tweet, which seemed to announce that there was going to be some kind of action, and last night's actual airstrikes. Wouldn't that have given the Syrians time to move a lot of assets out?

DEPTULA: Well, it's interesting that you mention that because what we have heard is that the tactical level surprise - perhaps operational level surprise - actually was achieved. So yes, to a degree, but, you know, because he said he was going to attack, well, OK, so what are you going to do? If you don't know the exact time and the exact place given the nature of the variety of facilities that are out there, you know, you can move the deck chairs around on the deck but that doesn't prevent them from ultimately being watched and then effectively engaged when necessary. And that's what happened yesterday.

SIMON: The Pentagon also said that pretty much every U.S., British and French missile that was targeted was able to hit home on their target. What does that suggest to you about Syrian defense capabilities?

DEPTULA: Once again, we achieved surprise. If the Syrians' integrated air defenses were alerted in any way, shape or form, they would have engaged the attacking force before it attacked or while it was attacking. Instead, I understand, they launched on the order of 40 surface-to-air missiles. But those launches occurred after the attack packages had delivered their weapons.

SIMON: Yeah. And, General, there's a lot of concern about Russian reaction. Reading between the lines, do you think the U.S., Britain and France kind of let the Russians know what was going to go on so that they could either move their assets or make certain to stand down?

DEPTULA: I - you know, the knowledge that I have is what was briefed by the Pentagon, and that was that the normal coordination channels were used with the Russians between the combined air operations center, which would have been in charge of this operation, and the Russians to deconflict airspace. But you can deconflict airspace without being specific in terms of what you're going to attack. And that was a prudent move to ensure that the Russians didn't get engaged. And the Russians understand, too, that while, you know, they talk big, they are not going to engage the United States, or they do so at their own peril.

SIMON: Retired...


SIMON: Thank you, General.

DEPTULA: I'll leave it at that.

SIMON: Retired U.S. Air Force Lieutenant General David Deptula. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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