October 3, 2012

Mortar attack on Turkish town - memo to Damascus

Below is a memo I am sending to Syrian President Bashar al-Asad. It concerns an exchange of fire between Syrian and Turkish military forces in a border city just over 250 miles northeast of Damascus.

Location of incident - 250 miles from Damascus

Mortar rounds fired by members of the Syrian army from Tal Abyad struck the Turkish city of Akcakale, killing five civilians and wounding at least ten others. You can view these two cities at these coordinates: Akcakale 36 42 50N 38 57 00E, and Tal Abyad at 36 41 52N 38 57 10E.

Akcakale, Turkey (above) and Tal Abyad, Syria (below)

Akcakale is located on the Turkish-Syrian border and is a busy transit station for goods moving between the two countries, and in transit through the two countries.

Akcakale, Turkey (top) - Tal Abyad, Syria (bottom) border station

In response, Turkish artillery batteries fired rounds on Syrian targets south of the border. The Turkish military spokesman made it clear that the Turkish artillery employed counter-battery radar to target its rounds in Syria. Counter-battery radar is used to calculate the position of missile, artillery and mortar batteries that have fired towards the radar.

The Turks have called for a meeting of NATO ambassadors at NATO headquarters in Brussels under Article 4 of the NATO charter which provides for consultations when a member state feels its territorial integrity, political independence or security is under threat. The charter states that an attack on one NATO country is an attack on all NATO countries.

President al-Asad should really clamp down on his troops in the field. I am not sure why the Syrians would want to attack Akcakale - perhaps the border crossing is suspected of being used to smuggle weapons to the Free Syrian Army. Tal Abyad, the town from where the mortar attacks originated, is home to the Syrian military security training center. The military security force is loyal to the al-Asad regime.

In light of events, I believe it only fair to provide some free advice to the Syrian president.


DATE: 3 October 2012

FROM: Rick Francona

SUJECT: Syrian Armed Forces Shelling of Turkish Border City

TO: President Bashar al-Asad, Syrian Arab Republic

Mr. President / سيادة الرئيس بشار الأسد

In case your advisors have not informed you, Syrian army units fired mortar rounds from Tal Abyad into Akcakale, Turkey. Given that the incident venue is over 250 miles from Damascus, and you likely have your hands full killing your own population throughout the country, it may not have risen to the level of interrupting your destruction of UNESCO World Heritage sites in Aleppo.

However, ignoring this incident would be the height of folly. While your armed forces may be capable of maintaining an edge in in the fighting over the ill-trained and poorly equipped Free Syrian Army, they are by no measure a match for the better-trained and equipped Turkish armed forces. Do not think that the downing of an unarmed Turkish RF-4 reconnaissance jet in possibly international airspace reflects the comparative capabilities of the Turkish and Syrian military forces.

You may also be aware that Turkey is a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). While it is doubtful that NATO will respond with force to this provocation, it is technically provided for in NATO's charter.

Mr. President, you are playing with fire. You have enough on your plate right now without taking on the much superior Turkish armed forces, and certainly do not need to invite NATO to destroy much of your military infrastructure.

Up until now, NATO has remained wary of your actions but has not contemplated intervention. Keep attacking NATO members and that situation may change. Please do not make the mistake of other nations and underestimate the military capabilities of the members of the alliance. They have taken apart much more capable air defenses than those of the Syrian armed forces.

Mr. President, we met once in Damascus, right after the unfortunate death of your brother Basil. You seemed like a pretty intelligent man, but given your actions over the last 20 months, I am beginning to change that assessment.

Rick Francona
Lieutenant Colonel, U.S. Air Force (Retired)
Former Air Attache to the U.S. Embassy in Damascus