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Missile Dissonance: U.S., Russia Give Vastly Divergent Accounts Of Syria Air Strikes

U.S. Video From Military Strike On Syria
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U.S. video of missiles being fired during the military strike on Syria.

The United States and Russia delivered drastically different accounts of the results of U.S.-led bombings of Syrian facilities that Washington called the "very heart" of Syria's alleged chemical-weapons program.

Moscow claimed on April 14 that Syrian air defenses intercepted 71 out of 103 missiles it said were launched in air strikes carried out in Syria earlier that morning in a joint operation by the United States, Britain, and France.

The Pentagon, however, contradicted that claim, with the director of the Joint Chiefs of Staff telling a news briefing that "none of our aircraft or missiles involved in this operation were successfully engaged by Syrian air defenses."

"The Syrian response was remarkably ineffective in all domains," Lieutenant-General Kenneth McKenzie said.

The Russian Defense Ministry claimed earlier on April 14 that Syrian forces, using Soviet-made air-defense systems, demonstrated the "high effectiveness" of weapons in their possession and the "excellent training of Syrian military personnel prepared by our specialists."

Rubble from some of the buildings hit by the air strikes in Syria.
Rubble from some of the buildings hit by the air strikes in Syria.

That assessment was touted by Russian state media and officials who portrayed the air strikes -- aimed at punishing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for a suspected chemical attack allegedly carried out by his forces -- as largely a flop.

"The missiles of Western aggressors proved to be less than effective" against Soviet-made missile-defense systems, Russian state television said.

Meanwhile, a senior foreign-policy voice in Russia's upper house of parliament riffed on U.S. President Donald Trump’s tweet days earlier daring Moscow to try and shoot down "nice and new and 'smart'" U.S. missiles in Syria.

"Soviet interceptor missiles turned out to be smarter," the lawmaker, Aleksei Pushkov, wrote on Twitter on April 14.

Meanwhile, U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Joseph Dunford said late on April 13 that there was some "initial surface-to-air missile activity from the Syrian regime" in response to the operation.

McKenzie told the Pentagon briefing on April 14 that the U.S.-British-French operation "successfully hit every target."

He said that 105 missiles were launched against three targets in Syria in the operation, which he said would "set the Syrian chemical weapons program back for years."

McKenzie said Syrian forces fired only 40 surface-to-air missiles in response to the air strikes -- 31 fewer than the number of Western missiles that Russia said had been shot down by Syrian air defenses.

"Most of these launches occurred after the last impact of our strike was over," McKenzie said of the Syrian interceptor missiles, adding that "they were largely ineffective and increased risk to their own people."

McKenzie said Washington has no indication that Russian air-defense systems were deployed during the joint air strikes.

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    Carl Schreck

    Carl Schreck is an award-winning investigative journalist who serves as RFE/RL's enterprise editor. He has covered Russia and the former Soviet Union for more than 20 years, including a decade in Moscow. He has led investigations into corruption, cronyism, and disinformation campaigns in Russia and Central Asia, as well as on poisoning attacks against Kremlin opponents and assassinations of Iranian exiles in the West. Schreck joined RFE/RL in 2014.