The nominee to lead US Central Command has warned that Russian S-400 anti-aircraft systems in Syria could threaten US personnel in the country.
Lt-Gen. Kenneth McKenzie was giving evidence during his nomination hearing to the Senate Armed Services Committee. McKenzie was nominated in August to lead US Central Command, the head of US forces in the Middle East, Central Asia and North Africa.
Asked to assess the threat of Russia’s S-400 anti-aircraft and anti-missile systems in Syria, McKenzie said: “The S-400 will increase the threat to our forces and our coalition partners flying over Syria. There will be a manifest difference in the capability of the systems.”
The S-400s have been deployed at the Hmeymim air base in Syria, and Masyaf, both located in in the western coastal province of Latakia. The S-400 system have been highly sought after by many countries. China, India and Turkey have invested in the defence system and Iraq, Qatar and Saudi Arabia are potential buyers.
Russia has never utilised the S400 system against the US-led coalition or the Israeli air force, despite Israel admitting to carrying out more than 200 air strikes against Iranian forces and Hezbollah in Syria. In September, Russia supplied the S300 system to Syrian forces to improve their air defences after a Russian surveillance aircraft was shot down by Syrian missiles in the aftermath of an Israeli air strike against Iranian forces in the country.
McKenzie said that the US mission in Syria was not to overthrow Assad or counter Russia and Iran in Syria, though the latter “may be a derived, observed effect.”
On 3 December, the US Syria envoy James Jeffrey said the Astana talks, convened by Russia, Turkey and Iran, had made no progress to solve the situation in Syria and should end, with efforts being redirected to the UN-led Geneva process. Jeffrey said: “The US view is let’s pull the plug on Astana.” He added that it is clear that the Russians and Iranians want to see ‘refugees pushed back to Syria, reconstruction aid and the Bashar al-Assad regime be recognised as legitimate. None of those things are happening, and they are not going to happen unless the political process makes progress.’