No amount of F-22s can help America deal with Russia in Syria

On June 14, the U.S. Air Force deployed F-22 Raptors to Syria in response to increasing “unsafe and unprofessional behavior” by Russian aircraft according to the U.S. Central Command. The F-22 Raptor, known for its stealth capabilities, is not an ordinary fighter jet. It’s designed to enhance the U.S. military’s defense. Currently, about 900 U.S. servicemembers are stationed in Syria, and these Raptors are responsible for their defense.

No amount of F-22s can help America deal with Russia in Syria
Photo credit: Pixabay

Last year, the US sent F-22 fighters to the Middle East in response to drone and missile attacks by Yemen’s Houthis. This wasn’t their first Middle Eastern assignment. In the spring of 2018, the F-22s were deployed in Syria to provide “defensive counterair” capabilities during strikes on Syrian military targets. These strikes were in response to alleged chemical weapons attacks by Damascus. In the fall, the F-22s completed their first “combat surge” in Syria. U.S. Raptor pilots flew into Syrian territory, deterring almost 600 Syrian, Iranian, and Russian combat aircraft from threatening U.S. military personnel.

The F-22 fighter jet faces challenges in Syria due to Russian military action, impacting the U.S. mission. Russia reportedly isn’t adhering to deconfliction agreements in Syria’s crowded airspace. 

Russian aircraft are increasing their interference with U.S. personnel. The U.S. has noted a rise in aerial aggression over Syria. On the ground, U.S. servicemembers are facing increased threats from Russian forces. Despite the presence of F-22s, tensions continue to escalate.

US sends F-22s to Crete for joint missions with Greek Air Force
Photo credit: Pixabay

Over 2,500 Russian military personnel are stationed in Syria, standing robustly by their ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. After more than a decade of chaos and conflict, Assad seemingly holds the victory banner in his country’s civil war. Meanwhile, the U.S. troops, often scorned as “occupiers” by Russia and Syria, have been asked to pack their bags and leave. 

Despite the call to exit, the U.S. has stood its ground, placing American soldiers in the crosshairs of not just Moscow and Damascus. Iran, another ally of Syria and Russia, has made a habit of targeting U.S. military personnel. 

Just last March, a chilling event unfolded: a drone, traced back to Iran, attacked U.S. contractors in Syria. One life was lost, and six others were wounded, stirring a debate over the logic and sustainability of the U.S. presence in Syria, which has been ongoing since 2015.

The U.S. government uses the continuing threat of the Islamic State to justify its presence in Syria. Despite losing territorial control in Iraq and Syria, the group is still a problem, as shown by the 313 anti-ISIS operations in 2022. 

No amount of F-22s can help America deal with Russia in Syria
Photo credit: Pixabay

Yet, there are other, more serious threats. In addition to ISIS, the U.S. also faces challenges from Russia, Iran, and the Syrian government. These adversaries are more dangerous than the now weakened ISIS, which can no longer launch coordinated attacks in the Middle East and elsewhere.

Military power alone can’t defeat ISIS. This is due to numerous ISIS prisoners, including foreign fighters and their families, being held in Iraqi and Syrian detention centers. These people are far from home and susceptible to radicalization and recruitment by jihadists. Additionally, ISIS strategists are constantly planning to free their allies from these prisons. 

Looking at U.S. campaigns against Al Qaeda or the Taliban, it’s clear that simply trying to destroy a problem like ISIS doesn’t work. This is a lesson U.S. policymakers should already know.

Just as the Taliban has shown its unwavering resolve to combat ISIS, even in the wake of the U.S. departure from Afghanistan, there’s a strong case that Syria, Iran, and Russia won’t stand for ISIS’s presence in the Middle East either. It’s worth noting for Americans that Iran played a pivotal role in the U.S.-backed fight against ISIS in Iraq and stood firm against the same terrorist threat in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, Russia has been battling ISIS to bolster Assad’s regime.

Ukrainian MiG-29 shot down a Russian Su-35 Flanker-E fighter jet
Photo: Twitter

In 2019, Russia filled the gap left by President Trump’s sudden withdrawal from Syria. They took over U.S. outposts and facilitated talks between the Kurds and Turkey. Russian diplomacy led to an agreement that prevented a Turkish military operation against the Kurds, in exchange for their withdrawal from the Syrian-Turkish border. 

Further complicating matters, Turkey, who was responsible for the defeat of ISIS’s latest leader, is in conflict with the Syrian Kurds. Ironically, the U.S. has been supporting these Kurds since 2014, causing tension in the U.S.-Turkey relationship. This is one of many complex situations the U.S. is dealing with in Syria, with no easy solution in sight.

F-22 Raptor has a suitability and cyber survivability issue
Photo credit: Pixabay

Let’s face it, America is like an uninvited guest at a party in Syria. Not only are we feeling the heat from Syrian, Russian, and Iranian military forces, but our supposed allies are jumping ship too. Countries like the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and the rest of the Arab League are cozying up to Damascus, welcoming it back into the regional fold. 

Our regime change policy, initiated under Obama and lingering still, has been a spectacular failure. Meanwhile, Russia is far from the isolated pariah we’d imagined it to be a post-Ukraine invasion. Instead, it’s become the indispensable player in Syria, courted by Damascus, Tehran, Jerusalem, and Ankara alike. 

The Middle Eastern countries realize that America’s stay in Syria isn’t permanent. They’re playing their cards close to their chests, ready to shift alliances as needed. Sadly, America hasn’t caught on. We’re stuck in a rut, suffering casualties while fruitlessly seeking an exit strategy. 

After nearly a decade of conflict, one thing is painfully clear: no amount of US high-tech F-22s can shield Washington from the fallout of the US policy missteps.

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