US mulls options as Syrian strike expected

CHEMICAL WEAPONS FEARS::US General Joseph Dunford said that US President Donald Trump ‘expects us to have military options’ if Syria uses banned weapons

Reuters, NEW DELHI

Sun, Sep 09, 2018 - Page 4

The US’ top general yesterday said he was involved in “routine dialogue” with the White House about military options should Syria ignore US warnings against using chemical weapons in an expected assault on the enclave of Idlib.

US Marine General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, said no decision had been made by Washington to employ military force in response to a future chemical attack in Syria.

However, “we are in a dialogue, a routine dialogue, with the [US] president [Donald Trump] to make sure he knows where we are with regard to planning in the event that chemical weapons are used,” he told a small group of reporters during a trip to India.

“He expects us to have military options and we have provided updates to him on the development of those military options,” Dunford said later.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has massed his army and allied forces on the front lines in the northwest, while Russian planes have joined his bombardment of rebels there, in a prelude to a widely expected assault, despite objections from Turkey.

This week, a top US envoy said there was “lots of evidence” that chemical weapons were being prepared by Syrian government forces in Idlib.

The White House has warned that the US and its allies would respond “swiftly and vigorously” if Syrian government forces used chemical weapons in Idlib.

Trump has twice bombed Syria over its alleged use of chemical weapons, in April last year and April this year.

Dunford did not say what he expected Trump to do should Syria use chemical weapons again.

France’s top military official last week said his forces were prepared to carry out strikes on Syrian targets if chemical weapons were used in Idlib.

Dunford declined to comment on US intelligence about the possible Syrian preparations of chemical agents.

“I wouldn’t comment on intelligence at all, in terms of what we have, what we don’t have,” he said.

Idlib is the insurgents’ only remaining major stronghold and a government offensive could be the last decisive battle in a war that has killed more than 500,000 people and forced 11 million to flee their homes.

The presidents of Turkey, Iran and Russia on Friday failed to agree on a ceasefire that would forestall an offensive.

Asked whether there was still a chance the assault on Idlib could be averted, Dunford said: “I don’t know if there’s anything that can stop it.”

“It’s certainly disappointing, but perhaps not [surprising] that the Russians, the Turks and the Iranians weren’t able to come up with a solution yesterday [Friday],” he said.

Tehran and Moscow have helped al-Assad turn the course of the war against an array of opponents ranging from Western-backed rebels to the militants, while Turkey is a leading opposition supporter and has troops in the country.

Turkey says it fears a massacre and it can not accommodate any more refugees crossing its border.

However, Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday said a ceasefire would be pointless, as it would not involve militant groups it deems terrorists.

Dunford has warned about the potential for a humanitarian catastrophe in Idlib and instead has recommended more narrowly tailored operations against militants there.

“There’s a more effective way to do counterterrorism operations than major conventional operations in Idlib,” he said.