By Michael Cruickshank, @MJ_Cruickshank
Over the course of the 5 year-long civil war in Syria, the US has slowly escalated its military involvement. However one significant move which they have so far failed to implement is a No Fly Zone (NFZ) enforced by their aircraft over all (or just part) of Syria.
Despite this, today the US may have tacitly announced just such a NFZ. In a press conference this evening, the Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook, made a number of statements regarding US forces in Syria. These statements came following reports that the US backed SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces) had been bombed by Assad Regime aircraft in the city of Hasakah in northern Syria. Such airstrikes were also dangerously close to US Special Forces who were assisting the SDF in their fight against ISIS.
Specifically Peter Cook said that the US would use its airpower “as needed” to protect US personnel and partner operations. The aim of this was reportedly to send a message to other parties to “stay away from our forces”.
"We are fighting ISIL...and we will defend our forces,” Peter Cook also remarked.
Despite these comments Cook did take the time to deny that such a move would constitute a No Fly Zone. Given this denial, it’s worth looking at how the statement made by the Pentagon differs from a no fly zone.
In US military doctrine, an NFZ is enforced as an ‘Exclusion Zone’, wherein a specific action (in this case flying aircraft) is prohibited. Such a zone must exist over a defined geographic area, and should it be breached, it could be enforced through military means.
With this in mind, what was declared today by the Pentagon differs from what is commonly referred to as a No Fly Zone, for two key reasons. The first of these is that the US did not declare a specific geographic area in which they would use their airpower to defend their forces. Indeed they did not even specify which forces they meant. Secondly, the US statement suggests they would only take action to defend against aircraft should they attack US-aligned forces, rather than simply flying through the airspace.