After US, France and UK orchestrated airstrikes in Syrian, US President Donald Trump took to his Twitter platform to declare that it was “mission accomplished.”
However, some experts have expressed concern on what the mission was in the first place.
Over the span of several centuries, Syria, which was at the forefront of the Islamic Caliphate, witnessed multiple invasions and occupations: from the Romans, to the Crusaders, to the Turks. The current conflict, the Syrian Civil War, has been going on since 2011. It began during the Arab Spring protests due to resentment towards the government of President Bashar al-Assad. The war is being fought by several factions. The Syrian government and its allies, have been facing against a loose alliance of Sunni Arab rebel groups (including the Free Syrian Army) since the uprising. These rebels have been pushed back into a few areas of control largely with the help of Iranian and Russian backing.
Historical perspective – mission accomplished
The Mission Accomplished speech is one of the most controversial speeches delivered by a US President in the nation’s modern history. In 2003, then President George W Bush delivered a televised speech regarding the Iraq invasion. Standing on the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln on May 1, 2003, he promised that the most important phase of the Iraq invasion was completed. Even though he never specifically stated that the mission was accomplished, a banner stating "Mission Accomplished" was used as a backdrop to the speech. He did note that "Our mission continues" and "We have difficult work to do in Iraq." However, he also went on to state that it was the end to major combat operations in Iraq. Bush's assertion—and the sign itself—became controversial after guerrilla warfare in Iraq increased during the Iraqi insurgency. This is because the vast majority of casualties, both military and civilian, occurred after the speech.
In April 2018, US, UK and France coordinated to launch strikes against targets within Syria in response to an alleged chemical weapons attack by the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. These strikes were conducted despite dire warnings from Russia. The strikes were conducted in response to reports that the Assad regime had orchestrated a chemical attack against Syrians.
After the strikes, President Trump addressed the nation and noted, “A combined operation with the armed forces of France and the United Kingdom is now under way. We thank them both. Last Saturday, the Assad regime again deployed chemical weapons to slaughter innocent civilians - this time in the town of Douma, near the Syrian capital of Damascus. This massacre was a significant escalation in a pattern of chemical weapons use by that very terrible regime.”
Less than 12 hours after his address, he took to his Twitter platform, to once again speak about the strikes. He noted, “A perfectly executed strike last night," he wrote. "Thank you to France and the United Kingdom for their wisdom and the power of their fine Military. Could not have had a better result. Mission Accomplished!”
Almost immediately, the phrase mission accomplished incurred criticism. Many cited Bush’s own mission accomplished speech as example as to how this could be ill timed. Some experts questioned the President on what he meant by Mission Accomplished – after all there isn’t a clear goal outlined by Washington as to its agenda in the Syrian conflict.
Shortly thereafter, the president criticized “fake news.” He defended his usage of the phrase by once against taking to Twitter noting, “The Syrian raid was so perfectly carried out, with such precision, that the only way the Fake News Media could demean was by my use of the term 'Mission Accomplished.' I knew they would seize on this but felt it is such a great Military term, it should be brought back. Use often!"
US military officials said the air strikes took out "the heart" of Syria's chemical weapons facilities, but it remained to be seen how Syria would respond. Russia has already warned that any strikes by America would be a step towards yet another conflict.
“I found the comment itself puzzling because I don’t know what exactly the president (or the briefers at the Pentagon press conference) mean by it,” said Faysal Itani, a senior fellow in the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East. “They seemed to pitch it as meaning ‘successful operation.’”
Aaron Stein, a senior fellow in the Hariri Center, said most professional members of the military probably “cringed” when they read Trump’s tweet. “The mission was a success, but let’s be clear about what it was intended to do: Punish the Syrian regime for the use of chemical weapons. The strike did that, but as the Pentagon made clear, Assad probably still has residual capabilities that he could employ, or simply just hang on to,” he said.
It is possible that after the aggressive strikes by the US and its allies, chemical attacks on civilians in the region will come to an end. If addressing the advent of chemical attacks is the goal of US and its allies, then it would mean that the mission was accomplished as a result of these strikes. However, it should be noted that the Assad government has vehemently denied its role in the attack and Russia has accused the UK of orchestrating it in the first place.
Our assessment is that it is too early to credibly judge whether or not the strikes by US and its allies have successfully ended any future chemical attacks against civilians in Syria. However, it is unlikely that these strikes would put an end to the conflict in the region itself.
The crisis unfolding in the war-ravaged country has put the lives of hundreds of thousands of people in danger. The increased airstrikes have resulted in not only widespread property damage but also the deaths of children and women. It is imperative for the Security Council to urgently take a definitive decision on ending the violence and this requires the cooperation of all parties involved.
In addition, there are concerns these strikes have increased the likelihood of a military conflict between the US and Russia.