Syria Needs a No-Fly Zone!

A no-fly zone was Syrians' earliest demand from the international community.

On October 28th, 2011, when only 5,000 civilians were dead in Syria, pro-democracy protesters braved regime bullets by the thousands to send a clear message to the international community: Syria needs a no-fly zone. Five years and 400,000 deaths later, isn't it time we heard their cries?

1. Regime air raids are the main killers of civilians in Syria.

  • Human Rights Watch director Kenneth Roth stated in August that barrel bombs "pose the greatest threat to Syrian civilians." According to Syrian Network for Human Rights, Assad is behind over 75% of civilian deaths since 2014.
  • Russian warplanes are even worse than Assad's. They regularly target hospitals, schools, bakeries, and markets with airstrikes that kill dozens of civilians. Russian warplanes also drop thermite, napalm, cluster bombs, and other internationally-banned weapons onto civilian areas.
    • Syrian five-year-old Omran Daqneesh was wounded in a Russian airstrike on his home.

2. Regime air raids are largely responsible for the current displacement crisis.

  • New York Times reported that when the regime started barrel-bombing Aleppo heavily in early 2014, some 500,000 Syrian civilians left Aleppo within a month.
  • Human Rights Watch satellites in February 2015 picked up 1,000 distinct damage sites "strongly consistent with the detonation of large, air-dropped munitions," in Aleppo. There were also 450 such sites in Deraa. Barrel bombs have rendered much of Syria unlivable.
  • Russia in particular has sought to target facilities that sustain the civilian population in opposition-held areas. On August 16, a Russian air raid destroyed the only hospital serving 400,000 people. Previous air raids have left 1.4 million people without clean water.

3. A no-fly zone would protect civilians and help fight ISIS.

  • A no-fly zone would protect civilians from barrel bombs. This could be a place for displaced persons to gather safely instead of leaving the country and risking difficult journeys to Europe.
  • A no-fly zone would allow moderate rebels to attack ISIS without fear of air raids and would reduce foreign fighter flows by stabilizing Turkey's borders.
  • Britain, France and Turkey all support a no-fly zone in northern Syria near Aleppo. Such a zone would be patrolled by U.S.-endorsed, pro-democracy fighters with the Free Syrian Army. 

4. The Russian intervention does NOT scuttle chances for a safe zone.

  • If Russia violates the zone, the U.S. can bomb regime airfields when no Russian planes are present. This does not target Russia, but still greatly complicates future Russian bombing raids.
  • Without shooting down Russian planes, the U.S. can also deter Russian violations of a zone through electronic warfare that forces Russian pilots to "fly blind."
  • Even if Russia provides the regime more advanced anti-aircraft system, the U.S. can still enforce safe zones with PATRIOT missile batteries in Turkey and Jordan.