The Military Importance of the Element of Surprise in Syria

How much difference would a bolt out of the blue have meant?

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The U.S. military learned the hard way that the element of surprise is a weapon that should be just as much a part of the American arsenal as Tomahawk cruise missiles.

Back in the 1990s, Saddam Hussein quickly realized that a U.S. attack on his nation was imminent whenever additional American warships and aircraft arrived in his neighborhood.

But when the U.S. decided to attack him without reinforcements, the Americans did just as much damage despite that smaller, on-hand arsenal, recalls Anthony Zinni, who ran those operations as chief of U.S. Central Command from 1997 to 2000. The element of surprise, the retired four-star Marine general noted, is a force multiplier all by itself.

Granted, the alleged use of chemical weapons by Syrian strongman Bashar Assad’s government put him on notice that a U.S. strike might be incoming for the past week. But with every passing day — now that President Obama has said he will await at least one more week for congressional action — chances are good that the Syrians are taking steps to protect whatever it is the U.S. military wants to attack.

(MORE: Congressional Debate Over Syria Will Be Test of Divided GOP)

“We can’t be waiting nine, 10 days, and allowing Syria to prepare for this,” Representative Peter King, Republican of New York who is a member of the House Intelligence Committee, said Sunday on Fox News.

Obama said Saturday — when he surprised many by saying he would seek a Capitol Hill O.K. before launching an attack — that timing was irrelevant. His top military adviser, Army General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, “has indicated to me that our capacity to execute this mission is not time sensitive,” Obama said from the Rose Garden at the White House. “It will be effective tomorrow, or next week, or one month from now.”

But that hasn’t reassured everybody. “When the chairman the Joint Chiefs says, ‘Well, it doesn’t matter when we strike,’ well, that’s not a military action,” Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, said Sunday on Face the Nation on CBS. “That’s a symbolic action.”

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White House

Nonetheless, five guided-missile destroyers with some 200 cruise missiles onboard are now steaming in the eastern Mediterranean Sea. The carriers Nimitz and Truman also remain on station in the region, along with the USS San Antonio–led amphibious ready group, which is carrying some 700 Marines. But the President is unlikely to risk U.S. pilots flying air strikes over Syria and has already declared there will be no U.S. combat boots on Syrian soil. That suggests an all-Tomahawk strike.

Tomahawks work best against undefended, fixed targets. That makes them ideal for military headquarters, barracks and depots that lack heavy protection like Syria’s chemical-weapons bunkers. Plus, once blown up, such buildings won’t spread deadly agents like a strike on a chemical-weapons stockpile could.

Syria could try to deter such strikes by forcing civilians into such buildings — if it felt a strike were imminent — and announcing they’d done so to the world. Any commander who has been willing to use chemical weapons against his own people, Pentagon officials believe, wouldn’t hesitate to use them to protect cherished military assets. Or Assad could protect mobile military assets such as rockets and artillery tubes by moving them into densely populated areas.

Syria has already used civilians as “human shields,” according to a report last year. “Witnesses … told Human Rights Watch that they saw the army and pro-government armed men, referred to locally as shabeeha, force people to march in front of the advancing army during the March 2012 offensive to retake control of areas that had fallen into the hands of the opposition,” said a report by the independent group. “From the circumstances of these incidents, it was clear to the witnesses that the purpose of this was to protect the army from attack.”

Of course, two can play such targeting games. One former four-star general, speaking privately, suggests that there is still a way for the U.S. to preserve the element of surprise. “Our first strike could simply attack and destroy his air-defense network,” says the retired officer, well versed in targeting intelligence. “Then, once he’s blinded, we can say, Go ahead — use chemical weapons again and see what happens next time.”

23 comments
art.palmer
art.palmer

Surprise,surprise,surprise !!! GOLLY...The U.S. can not keep anything as a surprise...Last thing was that little bomb,that was used 2 times,to end the War,in 1945....After that we always let the press know,long before the suprise... So,guys who are going to do the fighting,know this"The enemy knows when,where,and how you are comming...Good luck guys,the enemy in Viet Nam,always knew where,when,and how we were going to hit them.....I am so proud of the free press,that gets our guys killed...art  

renfieldc
renfieldc

Why would any American disagree with your president?  He's your soothsayer, your prophet, an omnipotent know all.

An off-track deviation is nothing to be concerned about. Sleep well, safe in the arms - cruise missiles - of Obama.

babycheeks
babycheeks

Obama is the most inept President since Jimmy Carter when it comes to foreign affairs and Commander in Chief. Neither had the necessary experience to become the head of the most powerful and engaged country on the world stage. This is an example of when he even does what is right, he muddles through, incapable of doing it the right way. It is going to be a long three years before he exits and I fear the damage he has and will continue to do will costs us much for many years to come.

jmac
jmac

We all love a quote from Representative Steven King, almost as much as a quote from Gohmert.  

HazeAndDrizzle
HazeAndDrizzle

No doubt surprise is the essence of any military strategy meant to defeat. But in order to punish, messing up infrastructure, destroying regime personal property, disrupting supply chains, does not necessary require great surprise. If anybody needs for fear a surprise, it is Hezbollah in Syria or near Syria.

AnnieatTango
AnnieatTango

Putin is giving Assad weapons. Let's give the rebels bigger weapons and let the fools kill each other.

lexielewis888
lexielewis888

@ParamjitGarewal What Was Cause Of ANY Victories of Native Americans in Indian Wars 1800s? Element of Surprise. TipToe N .... Dear Lord.:-(

lexielewis888
lexielewis888

@ParamjitGarewal This is the Most Disgusting Public Display Of Lack Of Any Knowledge Of Military Strategy I Could NOT have Imagined.

RonaldWinstonGumbs
RonaldWinstonGumbs

Of course, the POTUS should not intervene without authorization from Congress. But, In the event that there is another release of chemical weapons by the Syrian government, he should target Assad directly in the same way that President Reagan attacked the Libyan colonel sleeping in his tent.

Any response therefore must be aimed at punishing Assad without killing innocent civilians. This is the most effective message to those who would contemplate using chemical weapons of mass destruction in the future.

destor23
destor23

Um, I think they know we're mad at them.

NamecNassianer
NamecNassianer

For months Bush said that he was going to invade Iraq.  To imply that Bush's invasion of Iraq was a surprise is ludicrous.

raulroa
raulroa

@TIME @TIMEPolitics but giving warning may show us how they scramble weapons to other locations via spy satellites. Cat & mouse game

neko.el.gato
neko.el.gato

I see the same type of hokey, familiar language used to sell previous wars in this article. No big surprise.

The human shields bit (as if a human shield ever stopped the U.S.), the bit about blowing up bunkers filled with chemical weapons with tomahawks somehow stops them from being spread. The same old phony moral reasoning.

The fact is though, Americans overwhelmingly are against attacking Syria.

I know some Time reporters foam at the mouth for the chance to rationalize killing others, but you really suck at it.

Sibir_Russia
Sibir_Russia

Bashar al-Assad is a legitimate President of a sovereign country.

Our military-technical cooperation with Syria does not violate any of the resolutions of the UN security Council.

Russia does not supply offensive weapons to Syria
Russia supplies to Syria only defensive weapons, which cannot be used for internal struggle, such as air defense and coastal missile systems for the protection of the sovereignty. All of this armament supplied under the old obligations and does not violate UN resolutions.
 
Russian Vice-Premier Dmitry Rogozin said that Russia is not supplying Syria anything forbidden by the international sanctions in the sphere of military-technical cooperation.
"We are continuing to those contracts that have been concluded for a long time"
"No one can ever show of the Russian Federation no claims in this regard, and the control over exports of arms in our country tougher, than in many other countries" - added Rogozin.

Sibir_Russia
Sibir_Russia

@AnnieatTango 

External assistance to the opposition, which leads the armed struggle against the legitimate government, is a gross violation of fundamental rules of international law. In the Declaration on principles of international law, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1970, it is noted, in particular, that no state shall organize, assist, and financing of armed actions aimed at the violent overthrow of the regime of another state.

The representative of the United Nations Commission on human rights in the middle East emphasized that the composition of the armed Syrian opposition are only 5 % of the Syrians, all the rest of mercenaries from different countries.

Video Evidence. Syria - FSA,Al-Qaida terrorists killing of unarmed civilians, who have refused to join the ranks of al-Qaeda and the FSA, killing all those who expressed their support for the legitimate President Bashar al-Assad, all who refuse to betray its Homeland.
http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xtkuzl_yyyyyy-yyyyy-yyyyy-yyyy-yyyyy-yyy-yyyyyyy-yyyy-18_news?start=4

 

ParamjitGarewal
ParamjitGarewal

@lexielewis888 GeneralDempsey Chairman Chief of Staff-reflects on his poor Military Strateg on which decisions are Made :(((y

jmac
jmac

@NamecNassianer Bush was hitting Iraq  l-o-n-g before he told you a bout it.   

jmac
jmac

@neko.el.gato The fact is you don't see a President outwardly lying to invade a country (which we're not going to do). 

If you don't want to make a stand in the Middle East on a leader who has killed 100,000 to try to stop being overthrown by the citizens of that nation, and has now resorted to killing with chemical weapons - fine.   But don't talk about "phony moral reasoning."   It is a moral issue and it's an international issue.    Cherry-picking your poll data doesn't help your case either as you talk about us killing others as you ignore Assad and his killings.    

NickWoodley
NickWoodley

@jmac @neko.el.gato We all know (smart patriots, at least) that Obama is completely soul-less: a liar, a coward, an idiot, a thug, a racist, a political divider, an opportunist, possibly a pervert, and a traitor (Oh yeah, and Muslim). That one's important. ;-)

Why would we buy anything from him (except Obamacare - which we're forced to)....

Especially this 'moral-imperative' BS. It doesn't wash at all. This is all for Al' Qaeda's sake.

It's like the Devil selling girl scout cookies. And we're scrabbling for dollars we don't have to pay.

We shouldn't be dumb enough to open the door. - N