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Hagel: U.S. forces stand ready to strike Syria

By Julie Pace & Matthew Lee

Associated Press


WASHINGTON » U.S. military forces stand ready to strike Syria at once if President Barack Obama gives the order, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said today as the United States prepared to declare formally that chemical weapons had been used in the Syrian civil war.

U.S. officials said the growing intelligence pointed strongly toward Bashar Assad's government as the culprit — a claim Assad called "preposterous."

The U.S., along with allies in Europe, appeared to be laying the groundwork for the most aggressive response since Syria's civil war began more than two years ago. As of this morning, officials said President Barack Obama had not yet decided how to respond to the use of deadly gases, a move he said last year would cross a red line.

The Obama administration has already said there is "undeniable" evidence of a large-scale chemical weapons attack in Syria last week. Officials had planned to make a more formal declaration linking Assad to the attack today, but the release of the intelligence report appeared to have been pushed back until later in the week. It was unclear why the release was delayed.

A U.S. official said some of the evidence includes signals intelligence — information gathered from intercepted communications. The U.S. assessment is also based on the number of reported victims, the symptoms of those injured or killed and witness accounts.

The officials insisted on anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss the internal deliberations.

It's unlikely international military action would begin before Thursday. That's when British 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 chemical weapons attack.

International support was growing. In Paris, President Francois Hollande said today that France is "ready to punish those who took the heinous decision to gas innocents." And the Arab League, a 22-member body dominated by Saudi Arabia and Qatar, also called for justice, laying blame for the attack on the Syrian government.

Obama discussed the situation in Syria today with Prime Minister Stephen Harper of Canada, a NATO ally. The president has also spoken with Cameron, Hollande and Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in recent days.

Officials said the international community was considering action that would punish Assad for deploying deadly gases, not sweeping measures aimed at ousting the Syrian leader or strengthening rebel forces. The focus of the internal debate underscores the scant international appetite for a large-scale deployment of forces in Syria and the limited number of other options.

The most likely military response would involve sea-launched cruise missile attacks on Syrian military targets. The White House is also studying legal justifications for taking such steps without approval from the United Nations, where Russia is certain to block action at the Security Council.

Italy, meanwhile, is insisting that any strike should be authorized by the Security Council.

Hagel told BBC television today that the Defense Department has "moved assets in place to be able to fulfill and comply with whatever option the president wishes to take."

The Navy has four destroyers in the eastern Mediterranean Sea within range of targets inside Syria. The U.S. also has warplanes in the region.

"We are ready to go," Hagel said.

Hagel said "to me it's clearer and clearer" that the Syrian government was responsible, but that the Obama administration was waiting for intelligence agencies to make that determination.

Hagel was interviewed during a visit to the Southeast Asian nation of Brunei. While there, Hagel spoke by phone about Syria with his counterparts from Britain and France. Hagel's press secretary, George Little, said, said Hagel "conveyed that the United States is committed to working with the international community to respond to the outrageous chemical attacks."

Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry were also making the case for action to counterparts around the world. While the president has not spoken publicly about the deepening crisis this week, Kerry on Monday issued a blistering rebuke of the Assad government's actions.

"By any standard, it is inexcusable and — despite the excuses and equivocations that some have manufactured — it is undeniable," he told reporters at the State Department on Monday.

Assad, who has denied using chemical weapons, was defiant. In an interview published today on the website of the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency, Assad accused the U.S. and other countries of "disdain and blatant disrespect of their own public opinion; there isn't a body in the world, let alone a superpower, that makes an accusation and then goes about collecting evidence to prove its point."

The Syrian leader warned that if the U.S. attacks Syria, it will face "what it has been confronted with in every war since Vietnam: failure."

The Obama administration was moving ahead even as a United Nations team already on the ground in Syria collected evidence from last week's attack. The U.S. said Syria's delay in giving the inspectors access rendered the U.N. investigation meaningless and that the Obama administration had its own intelligence confirming chemical weapons use.

The U.N. team came under sniper fire Monday as it traveled to the site of the Aug. 21 attack and today delayed a second inspection. A U.S. official said the U.N. team's delay would not affect the Obama administration's timeline for releasing its own intelligence assessments.

It's unlikely that the U.S. would launch a strike against Syria while the United Nations team is still in the country. The administration may also try to time any strike around Obama's travel schedule — he's due to hold meetings in Sweden and Russia next week — in order to avoid having the commander in chief abroad when the U.S. launches military action.

The president has ruled out putting American troops on the ground in Syria and officials say they are not considering setting up a unilateral no-fly zone.

On Capitol Hill, bipartisan support for a military response appeared to be building, with some key lawmakers calling for targeted strikes. A spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner said the Ohio Republican had "preliminary communication" with White House officials about the situation in Syria and a potential American response.

However, some lawmakers from both parties were calling on the president to consult Congress before moving forward. Republican Rep. Scott Rigell of Virginia is asking colleagues to sign a letter to the president urging him to reconvene Congress and seek approval for any military action.

More than 100,000 people have died in clashes between forces loyal to Assad and rebels trying to oust him from power over the past two and a half years. While Obama has repeatedly called for Assad to leave power, he has resisted calls for a robust U.S. intervention, and has largely limited American assistance to humanitarian aid. The president said last year that chemical weapons use would cross a "red line" and would probably change his calculus in deciding on a U.S. response.

Obama took little action after Assad used chemical weapons on a small scale earlier this year and risks signaling to countries like Iran that his administration does not follow through on its warnings.

Officials said it was likely the targets of any cruise-missile attacks would be tied to Syria's ability to launch chemical weapons attacks. Possible targets would include weapons arsenals, command and control centers, radar and communications facilities, and other military headquarters. Less likely was a strike on a chemical weapons site because of the risk of releasing toxic gases.

Military experts and U.S. officials said Monday that the strikes would probably come during the night and target key military sites.

AP writer Lolita C. Baldor in Washington and AP National Security Writer Robert Burns contributed to this report from Bander Seri Begawan, Brunei.

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Grimbold wrote:
Same fraud as Iraq's "proven" weapons of mass destructions. Only the Islamist rebels would profit if poison gas was used and blame Assad. Our secret service is very unreliable and I suspect undermined with Israel-sympasizers. The question is not if poison gas was used but who did it. Assad would have no whatsoever reason or military advantage doing it . The willingness of Obama to believe his foul intelligence advisers is scary.
on August 27,2013 | 03:41AM
warfan808 wrote:
your so smart and everyone else is sooo dumb.including everyone in our intelligance community..haha shut up ...., when i was in iraq we were supposed to go to syria border because of reports saddam was trucking all of his wmds (chemicals ) to syria ....this is very interesting.
on August 27,2013 | 06:35AM
Grimbold wrote:
warfan, Fan of war: your name betrays your true colors.
on August 27,2013 | 07:44AM
hanalei395 wrote:
Before you were in Iraq, the U.N. weapons inspectors were there. And they were all over Iraq looking for WMD. Hans Blix, the chief U.N. weapons inspector, then said that there were NO WMD in Iraq. But before the inspectors could conclude their work, Bush KICKED THEM OUT, so he could start his unneeded, unnecessary, useless ill-fated war. And over 4500 U.S. troops DEAD, FOR NOTHING.
on August 27,2013 | 08:05AM
Pacej001 wrote:
Blix did not, before the war, state that "there were NO WMD in Iraq". He cast doubt on US/British intelligence, but he did not state that there were no WMDs. From the Telegraph, "Dr Blix said he spoke to Mr Blair in February 2003, ahead of the March invasion, about his team's findings. ''I said to Mr Blair 'Yes, I also thought there could be weapons of mass destruction', but I said 'Are you so sure? Would it not be paradoxical if you were to invade Iraq with 200,000 men and found there were no weapons of mass destruction?'.---- Turns out Blix's doubts were well founded, but hind sight is 20-20. ----------Also, "For Nothing" amounts to an inaccurate description: Saddam, a Stalin wannabe, and his family are gone. Iraq is no longer in position to threaten its neighbors, nor is it likely to restart WMD programs (a certain with Saddam after the failing sanctions regime was gone).
on August 27,2013 | 08:45AM
hanalei395 wrote:
And for making Saddam, an enemy of Iran, to be gone ...over 4500 U.S. troops...DEAD. The former secular nation of Iraq is now an Islamic state, with a new constitution complete witth the Sharia law. And the once bittter enemies of Iran and Iraq, are now staunch allies. The Ayatollahs of both Iran and Iraq should send the U.S., especially to Bush, a Thank You note. . (Bottom line: Over 4500 U.S. troops ..DEAD ... FOR NOTHING)
on August 27,2013 | 09:18AM
Pacej001 wrote:
The two countries are not "staunch allies". Saddam, as an enemy of Iran, served our national interests, but he became an enemy of stability in the region with the invasion of Kuwait and the implied threat to Saudi Arabia. The successfully fought UN sanctions which probably would have failed completely in a few years had not we invaded.
on August 27,2013 | 09:35AM
hanalei395 wrote:
If the U.S. attacks Iran, guess whose side Iraq will be on. Iraq once had Christian churches and Christmas and Easter were once celebrated. All that is now gone. There were women and Christians in Saddam's cabinent, and Saddam's Deputy Prime Minister, Tariq Aziz, was a Catholic. Or is a Catholic, if he wasn't executed.
on August 27,2013 | 10:33AM
HD36 wrote:
More likely is he became an enemy of the Petro-Dollar system when he wanted to sell oi in euros.
on August 27,2013 | 10:42AM
Nevadan wrote:
Aloha Pj1. My recollection is with h395. Hans Blix did announce just prior to the war that there was no WMD discovered. When Bush started the war, I thought he knew better. I was against the war for a different reason: balance of power between Iran and Iraq.
on August 27,2013 | 10:56AM
Nevadan wrote:
Aloha Pj1. My recollection is with h395. Hans Blix did announce just prior to the war that there was no WMD discovered. When Bush started the war, I thought he knew better. I was against the war for a different reason: balance of power between Iran and Iraq.
on August 27,2013 | 10:58AM
Nevadan wrote:
Aloha Pj1. My recollection is with h395. Hans Blix did announce just prior to the war that there was no WMD discovered. When Bush started the war, I thought he knew better. I was against the war for a different reason: balance of power between Iran and Iraq.
on August 27,2013 | 11:10AM
hanalei395 wrote:
That's cabinet, not "cabinent". And thanks Nevadan for the confirmation. About a month before Bush began his ill-fated war, Tariq Aziz had an audience with Pope John Paul II, to tell the Pope to write Bush and to tell him that Iraq had no WMD, to plead to him to not attack Iraq. The late Pope did write to Bush, and of course, Bush ignored his letter.
on August 27,2013 | 11:44AM
HD36 wrote:
Of course there were WMD in Iraq at one time. We gave it to them. We funded Iraq in their war against Iran after we had the CIA assinate their democratically elected leader and replaced him with a puppet.
on August 27,2013 | 10:41AM
Pacej001 wrote:
No, we didn't give them WMD. The rest of your post is fiction.
on August 27,2013 | 10:48AM
hanalei395 wrote:
Donald Rumsfeld met and shook Saddam Hussein's hand on Dec. 12, 1983, after Rumsfeld delivered "something" to Iraq. Less than 5 years later, Iraq attacks the Kurds with poison gas.
on August 27,2013 | 01:04PM
HD36 wrote:
Have you ever heard of the Shaw of Iran?
on August 27,2013 | 06:25PM
aomohoa wrote:
I hate to tell you but most of our so called intelligence community can't seem to get their act together or communicate efficiently with other agencies. It's ridiculous. Black budget waste of money.
on August 27,2013 | 09:01AM
pcman wrote:
I suspect Obama closed down any human intelligence collection in Syria a few years ago when Assad could no longer defend foreign embassies, including Americans. The UN investigators are a day late and dollar short, because Obama should have requested UN involvement a year ago when chemical weapons were first used. Targeting possible chemical weapon elements with cruise missiles will carry high collateral damage results, including civilians, children and noncombatants. The last time this kind of operation was executed was when then President Clinton used cruise missiles to attack possible Iraqi WMD targets on the day Monica Lewinsky testified on their affair.
on August 27,2013 | 07:26AM
Pacej001 wrote:
The "secret service", protects the president. It is not an intelligence agency.
on August 27,2013 | 08:34AM
salsacoquibx wrote:
Good catch Pace
on August 27,2013 | 11:20AM
palani wrote:
Militaristic Bush, bad. Militaristic Obama, good. Former critics now ardent supporters, doves now hawks. Hypocrisy rules!
on August 27,2013 | 05:40AM
HD36 wrote:
We should save our missiles and resources for cases that involve a real military threat to our national security.
on August 27,2013 | 06:08AM
palani wrote:
on August 27,2013 | 06:16AM
warfan808 wrote:
If you let the world around us crumble and start useing chemical weapons against each other sooner than later you will have a uncontroalable chaos that we will not be able to defend ...it right to stand up for human rights not just american rights.
on August 27,2013 | 06:37AM
realist3463 wrote:
You illustrate a complete lack of understanding of the political morass that is Syria, Libya, Tunisia, and Egypt. We have inserted our power where we had no National interests and have created instability throughout the region. We destroyed basically stable but ugly governments (except maybe Tunisia) and created vast areas of violent and ungovernable territories at the cost of the lives hundreds of thousands of their citizens. On the issue of chemical weapons, they are not the threat many believe them to be. They can be ugly, yes, but are difficult to employ, have limited range and utility and have the potential to return and bite the organization launching as the Germans found out all too often during WWI. We have no National interests in Syria and unfortunately the current Obama government in DC has proven to be inept in the region, so I have little expectation that this will be any different.
on August 27,2013 | 07:31AM
Pacej001 wrote:
Unfortunately, our community organizer has painted us into a corner by defining a red line. Fail to act: We lose credibility and encourage others to follow Syria under increasingly worse scenarios. Take preemptive military action: We get sucked into a military conflict we can't afford and which, no matter which side wins, will be against our national interests. Act with token military force (the likelihood): We risk BOTH. Underlying all if this is the possibility of our actions kicking off a broader regional war---- Israel, Hezbollah, Syria, Iran. Perfect.
on August 27,2013 | 08:55AM
HD36 wrote:
You left out Russia, who has a naval port in the Mediterenian Sea off Syria. Who has Sun Burn and next generation Onyx missiles that are 25 years ahead of our cruise missile. Putin has said he will not back down like Dimetry Medilev did with Libya. The Onyx missiles can wipe out the entire US naval fleet in the Mediterenean Sea within 30 minutes. You really want to go down that road?
on August 27,2013 | 06:31PM
Grimbold wrote:
war-fan, Our intervention allows already for crumbling of the world in Libia, iraq, Afghanistan. Your comments lack reason.
on August 27,2013 | 07:47AM
yhls wrote:
The government tells so many lies, you never know what the truth is. After we help topple Assad's regime, the new regime will hate us. It will become another hotbed for anti-American Islamists.
on August 27,2013 | 06:10AM
Grimbold wrote:
The rebels are already Islamist controlled. And we arm them and help them win. Can anybody imagine anything more heinous?
on August 27,2013 | 07:49AM
all_fed_up wrote:
Just let the rest of the world take care of this. We already got enough cr@p on our plate.
on August 27,2013 | 06:19AM
IAmSane wrote:
And let them get all the weapon contracts?
on August 27,2013 | 06:35AM
Anonymous wrote:
from who?
on August 27,2013 | 11:02AM
aomohoa wrote:
This should be handled by the UN if anything. Why always us? The World hates us and then they want our help. Which is it? I feel bad for these people but we have killed as many innocent people as terrorists already. I don't know what would be best but we need to be cautious.
on August 27,2013 | 09:05AM
saveparadise wrote:
So true aomohoa, so true. Without the UN military sanction the US goes in alone. Half the world hates us as the bully and the economic terrorists. We have nothing to gain and nothing to lose in Syria. I hope Obama is not the antichrist in disguise that will lead us to a war that ends all............
on August 27,2013 | 12:07PM
Bumby wrote:
U.S. government cutbacks on defense is the reason behind creating another conflict. It is about the money. Follow the money trail and you will find who pulls all the strings. The leaders of America are being played by the power money mongrels of the world. They want to get their way and create what is necessary for their benefit and end results they want. Is a one world government their goal? No. Playing behind the scenes and controlling the wealth and power makes them the overseers of the world already.
on August 27,2013 | 07:03AM
Sunny wrote:
What novel did you read about this?
on August 27,2013 | 07:07AM
aomohoa wrote:
Obvious you don't read the truth. You need to do your research. The average person doesn't EVER read the real news, just fluff. Bumby is right.
on August 27,2013 | 09:07AM
Ratrase wrote:
Eisenhower identified it. The Military, Industrial, CONGRESSIONAL, Establishment. He did say CONGRESSIONAL too, but was "urged" to allow it to be changed to COMPLEX for political reasons, namely his run for president. The Master's of War, have always driven the continual warfare. Good for arms dealers, jet manufacturers, supply liners, bankers, wankers, etc.
on August 27,2013 | 10:55AM
HD36 wrote:
Yes, and he was the best president when it came to sound money fiscal policy.
on August 27,2013 | 06:33PM
HonoluluHawaii wrote:
It is all a matter of trust. Words are of course much better than bombs. In this age of the Information Superhighway, we know more, however we can do more evil also. I suppose no matter of diplomatic contact with Syria or those responsible would be nice? Gosh Barry why not call the Syrian government and have a chat !! Or at least your Secretary of State could do it. Laugh out loud. I wonder if al-Qaida would retaliate against the Free World if the USA bombs Syria?
on August 27,2013 | 07:19AM
Damia wrote:
Why does the US have to get involve in every countries conflit. Who help us when we need help? We need to focus on our own country and take care of our own people.
on August 27,2013 | 07:22AM
Grimbold wrote:
Besides, Obama is falling for a giant fraud! Just like WMD in Iraq.
on August 27,2013 | 07:50AM
aomohoa wrote:
For what we spend on war and black budgets every infrastructure problem in the country could be fixed. To many sell out politicians.
on August 27,2013 | 09:09AM
Ronin006 wrote:
Let Allah sort it out.
on August 27,2013 | 10:26AM
50skane wrote:
Here we go again!!!!!
on August 27,2013 | 08:09AM
HawaiiCheeseBall wrote:
Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, Iraq was seeking yellowcake uranium from Niger, Iraq had mobile labs to create biological weapons, Iraq had numerous ties to Al-Qaeda, Syria has been using chemicals ........ get it?
on August 27,2013 | 08:28AM
residenttaxpayer wrote:
The U.S. should restrain itself from involvement in military intervention in what is a basically a civil war in Syria....once we are involved there will be no backing out and we will be in another quagmire as in Iraq and Afghanistan...while its tragic that the regime in Syria is killing it own citizens...nevertheless the U.S. can't solve other countries internal problems.....
on August 27,2013 | 08:35AM
saveparadise wrote:
Exactly taxpayer, we cannot even control crime at home and in our streets. Spread our military thin and we become weaker and weaker. These people have been at war with each other for hundreds of years. Leave them be and protect our borders instead.
on August 27,2013 | 12:11PM
Ratrase wrote:
Well thank the gods, Mars?, that another war came along before we didn't have one to spend our taxes on.
on August 27,2013 | 08:35AM
fiveo wrote:
Another false flag operation to justify the US striking Syria to aid the Syrian insurgents who are largely Al Queda. There is little doubt that the gas attack was committed by the so called Syrian insurgents who were also responsible for the earlier gas attack that occurred a couple of months before. That gas attack was first blamed on Assad but it was later determined that the Syrian insurgents (Al Queda forces) were behind the gas attack. Remember, the Gulf of Tonkin which never happened which was used to justify direct US commitment of ground forces to South Vietnam, or the presence of weapons of mass destruction used to justify the US invasion of Iraq. This idea that the use of poison gas is a line in the sand which must not be crossed is ridiculous. Is the use of poison gas any worse than going into a village or neighborhood and killing everyone by the using conventional arms. I would submit there is no difference. Slaughtering innocents however you do it does not make any difference.
on August 27,2013 | 08:51AM
Ratrase wrote:
Seems like any excuse to go to another war will do.
on August 27,2013 | 08:56AM
aomohoa wrote:
We wouldn't want to cut our Military budgets would we.
on August 27,2013 | 09:10AM
Ratrase wrote:
35% of Hawaii's economy depends on it.
on August 27,2013 | 10:57AM
HD36 wrote:
Great timing though: Right before the G20 meeting in Russia that will discuss alternative trading platforms to replace the dollar; Right before the US hits the debt ceiling again and has to either raise it for the 60th straight time or default; and Right before the Fed meets to announce wehter or not they will slow down their unprecedented monetization of the $85 billion a month purchases of toxic debt that they will eventually unload on the tax payer.
on August 27,2013 | 06:39PM
Anonymous wrote:
Interesting when I look at this from a "BIBLICAL" point of view and how it describes in detail how things will be played out in the "last days" the world economy, whats happening in the middle east, all kinds of natural disasters world wide, families being destroyed in todays society, makes one wonder.
on August 27,2013 | 08:59AM
HD36 wrote:
They say everthing runs in cycles. We're in the 2,650 cycle of the solar system, the 80 year cycle of major wars, and the begging of the 4-6 year cycle of major recessions.
on August 27,2013 | 06:42PM
Ronin006 wrote:
When Obama establish his Red Line policy a year ago, he essentially gave Assad the green light to kill all the people he wanted to kill using conventional weapons, just do not use those terrible chemical weapons. Why is it acceptable to kill hundreds of thousands of men, women and children using conventional weapons but not ok to kill a few hundred with chemical weapons? Is it justification for the US to get involved in Syria’s civil war? I think not.
on August 27,2013 | 09:49AM
salsacoquibx wrote:
Time for war companies to make up their profits again...all politics..same as usual..
on August 27,2013 | 09:54AM
HealthyandHappy wrote:
Why so cynical? Obama the Noble Peace Prize recipient is at the controls.
on August 27,2013 | 10:22AM
salsacoquibx wrote:
Ohhhh I forgot one of Hawaii's sons is at the helm..we should be all good then..Time to blame Bush again, or maybe Clinton..Why not blame Jimmy Carter for our Nation's mess..Yeah Jimmy's the one to blame.
on August 27,2013 | 11:12AM
Ronin006 wrote:
Let Allah sort it out.
on August 27,2013 | 10:25AM
Maneki_Neko wrote:
Civil war - let them sort it out.
on August 27,2013 | 11:19AM
Bully wrote:
Hopefully we dont use it as an excuse to start a war with Syria.
on August 27,2013 | 11:25AM
retire wrote:
Shades of "W"....
on August 27,2013 | 11:41AM
epenn wrote:
This is ridiculous! Get our troops out of there and back home immediately. It is not our job to police Syria's conflict. Secondly, Obama, POTUS, does not have the authority to send our troops in, only CONGRESS does. Sending our troops into Syria will create a major liability for the USA.
on August 27,2013 | 02:17PM
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