US lays groundwork for possible Syria strike, officials say


Thu, Aug 29, 2013 - Page 1

US officials are wrestling with what type of military strike in Syria might deter future chemical weapons attacks and trying to assess how Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would respond, two senior US administration officials said yesterday.

US President Barack Obama’s administration insists the Syrian government must be punished for its alleged use of chemical weapons on civilians last week.

US intelligence agencies are preparing a report laying out the evidence against al-Assad’s government in chemical weapons attacks. The classified version would be sent to key members of the US Congress, and a declassified version would be released publicly. However, the White House says it is already convinced and is planning a possible military response while seeking support from international partners.

“If there is action taken, it must be clearly defined what the objective is and why” and based on “clear facts,” one of the senior officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss internal deliberations publicly.

The official said the administration is considering more than a single set of military strikes, and “the options are not limited just to one day” of assault.

The US and international objective of striking Syria would be to damage the government’s military and weapons to make it difficult to conduct more chemical attacks, and to make al-Assad think twice about using such weapons in the future.

Al-Assad has denied using chemical weapons, calling the allegations “preposterous.”

No additional US defensive weapons have been deployed in the region in anticipation of Syrian responses, the official said. The US already has Patriot anti-missile batteries in Jordan and Turkey.

The other US official said the administration has determined it can contain any potential Syrian military response in the event that Obama orders an attack, which likely would be led by low-flying cruise missiles fired from any of four US Navy destroyers off Syria’s coast.

The US and its international partners were unlikely to undertake military action before today. That is when UK Prime Minister David Cameron will convene an emergency meeting of parliament, where lawmakers are expected to vote on a motion clearing the way for a British response to the alleged chemical weapons attack.

The prime minister’s office yesterday said it would put forward a resolution to the UN Security Council condemning the Syrian government for the alleged chemical attack.

In Geneva, UN special envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi said any military strike must have the Security Council’s approval.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon pleaded for more time to allow a UN inspection team in Syria to establish the facts around the alleged chemical weapons attack and to give diplomacy another chance to end the Syrian conflict.

The Israeli Cabinet yesterday authorized a partial call-up of army reservists amid growing expectations of a foreign military strike on Syria, army radio reported.

The unspecified number of troops are attached to units stationed in the north of the country, which borders both Lebanon and the Golan Heights, seized from Syria in the 1967 Six-Day War, the report said.

Additional reporting by AFP