Donald Trump’s threats clear Syrian regime warplanes from the skies

Syrian regime warplanes have carried out barely any raids since Donald Trump threatened strikes, as Bashar al-Assad’s forces scramble to move weapons and equipment away from sites they fear will be hit by US missiles. 

Civilians in rebel-held areas and monitoring groups said that the skies had been quiet since Sunday, when Mr Trump warned the regime would pay “a big price” for a chemical weapons attack that killed 70 people in Douma. 

Analysts believe the lull in the bombing is a result of Assad’s forces rushing to move their aircraft to Russian bases in Syria, which are less likely to be targeted by American missiles.   

“Since Trump tweeted its initial threats the regime has completely changed its military deployments, particularly its air force, which in turn disrupted its air campaign,” said Michael Horowitz, a senior analyst at the Le Beck geopolitical consultancy. 

“In a way, the mere threat of action has already been enough to save lives on the ground,” he added. 

Airstrikes by Russian and regime aircraft are normally a daily occurrence in Idlib, a rebel-held province in northwest Syria. But residents there said they had enjoyed several days of quiet since Mr Trump first issued his threats. 

The Syrian Network For Human Rights (SNHR) recorded no airstrikes by regime aircraft in Idlib since April 8. It also found that the rate of strikes by Russian warplanes was also down dramatically since Mr Trump’s threats. 

SNHR recorded 20 Russian strikes in the province between April 4-8. Between April 9-13 there were only four strikes. 

The Air Wars monitoring does not collect formal data on regime strikes. "But generally speaking, yes definitely, they appear to be down," Abdulwahab Tahhan, a Syria researcher for the group.

Syrian opposition groups have reported seeing regime forces emptying out bases across the country in an effort to shield their equipment from expected US strikes. 

Regime aircraft were reportedly moved out of Hama airbase in western Syria while Hizbollah forces abandoned positions near the T4 airbase in the centre of the country. Israeli jets reportedly struck the T4 base on last weekend, killing 14 people, including seven Iranians. 

Russian strikes in Idlib province have been sharply down since Mr Trump's threatCredit:
AP Photo/Alexander Kots, Komsomolskaya Pravda, Photo via AP

Much of the regime equipment is believed to be being moved to Khmeimim, the main Russian base in northwest Syria, or else clustered around known Russian positions inside of Syrian regime bases. 

The US and Russian militaries speak directly through a “deconfliction channel” to ensure that they do not accidentally open fire on each other in the crowded airspace above Syria. 

Justin Bronk, research fellow for airpower and technology at the Royal United Services Institute think thank, said that the hasty movement of forces was likely hampering both regime and Russian forces. 

"If you’re being charitable, keeping the Russians and the Syrians cooped up together on overcrowded bases for a few days is certainly a way to reduce the threat of aerial operations against civilians," he said. 

Syria chemical attack | Read more

Mr al-Hamdo said the bombing pause brought by Mr Trump’s tweets was proof that world powers could have done more to stop the killing in Syria since 2011. 

"It’s so clear that the international community could have done something but for seven years they have done nothing to help us," he said. "Just because of threats there have been no bombs at all." 

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