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U.S. working on details of military strike on Syria


Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 06:29 a.m. HST, Aug 28, 2013

WASHINGTON >> U.S. officials are still grappling with how to design a military strike to deter future chemical weapons attacks in Syria and assessing how President Bashar Assad might respond, two senior officials said Wednesday, as the Obama administration insisted the Syrian government must be punished.

U.S. intelligence agencies are preparing a report laying out the evidence against Assad's government in last week's alleged chemical weapons attacks on civilians. The classified version would be sent to key members of Congress and a declassified version would be released publicly. The White House says it's already convinced, however, and is planning a possible military response while rounding up 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," said one of the senior administration officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because he wasn't 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.

In broad terms, the U.S. and international goals in striking Syria would be to damage the Syrian government's military and weapons to make it difficult to wage chemical attacks, and to make Assad think twice about using such weapons in the future. Such a strike likely would be led by low-flying cruise missiles fired from any of four U.S. Navy destroyers off Syria's coast.

The manner and timing of Syria's response are among the so-called "next day" questions that the administration is still thinking through as it prepares a possible military action. No additional U.S. defensive weapons have been deployed in the region in anticipation of Syria reprisals, the official said. The U.S. already has Patriot anti-missile batteries in Jordan and Turkey.

The other senior U.S. official said the administration has determined it can contain any potential Syrian military response in the event that President Barack Obama orders a U.S. attack.

Both officials were granted anonymity in order to discuss internal deliberations on complex questions that surround crafting a response to the Aug. 21 attack in which hundreds of Syrian civilians were killed.

In Congress, which is in summer recess, members from both parties have expressed reservations about a rush toward launching a military action without congressional approval. On Wednesday, Washington Rep. Adam Smith, the ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, cautioned that an attack might be ineffective and draw the United States into the Syrian civil war.

"Simply lashing out with military force under the banner of 'doing something' will not secure our interests in Syria," Smith said in a statement.

The administration in recent days has made clear it believes it must take punitive action against Syria for its alleged use of chemical weapons, which are banned by international convention. But the senior officials' comments Wednesday made clear that questions about using military force in this circumstance are still being worked out.

The officials said diplomatic and legal issues also are still being discussed internally.

"If any action is taken it will not be taken until all these pieces are in place: the legal issues, the international piece, the consequences thought through, the facts and everything that needs to be tied together," the first senior official said.

The official did not go into detail. Questions may include to what degree military strikes would prevent Assad from using poison gas in the future, and how to respond if he does.

The administration also is concerned that if Assad is not punished, dictatorial leaders of other nations in possession of chemical weapons, like North Korea, might see the failure to act as a sign that they, too, could get away with using the weapons.

In Israel, a close U.S. ally in the Middle East, the military and citizens were preparing for what officials said was a slim possibility of a retaliatory attack by Syria after a U.S. strike.

Administration officials have said Assad's actions posed a direct threat to U.S. national security, providing Obama with a potential legal justification for launching a strike without authorization from the United Nations or Congress. However, officials did not detail how the U.S. was directly threatened by an attack contained within Syria's borders. Nor have they yet presented concrete proof that Assad was responsible.

Assad has denied using chemical weapons, calling the allegations "preposterous."

"Allowing the use of chemical weapons on a significant scale to take place without a response would present a significant challenge to, threat to the United States' national security," White House spokesman Jay Carney said Tuesday.

The U.S. and its international partners were unlikely to undertake military action 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 alleged chemical weapons attack.

The prime minister's office said Wednesday that it will put forward a resolution to the U.N. Security Council condemning the Syrian government for the alleged chemical attack.

Obama and Cameron spoke Tuesday, their second known conversation since the weekend. A Cameron spokesman said the two leaders agreed that a chemical attack had taken place, and that the Assad regime was responsible.

Also Tuesday, Vice President Joe Biden became the highest-ranking U.S. official to charge that Assad's government fired chemical weapons last week near Damascus.

"There's no doubt who is responsible for this heinous use of chemical weapons in Syria: the Syrian regime," Biden said.

Ahead of any strike, the U.S. also planned to release additional intelligence it said would directly link Assad to the attack in the Damascus suburbs. Syrian activists said hundreds of people were killed in the attack. A U.S. official said the intelligence report was expected to include "signals intelligence" — information gathered from intercepted communications.

Even before releasing that information, U.S. officials said Assad was culpable in the attack, based on witness reports, information on the number of victims and the symptoms of those killed or injured, and intelligence showing the Syrian government has not lost control of its chemical weapons stockpiles.


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

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sluggah wrote:
Haven't we learned anything? We're going broke, so let's go be the world's cop. Great for the arms manufacturers, bad for the grunts. All those other mideast wars worked out so well. Didn't BO get elected on a platform of non intervention? Didn't he excoriate Bush for going into Iraq without a declaration of war?
on August 28,2013 | 06:08AM
Grimbold wrote:
Iagree with you: We are the second time the fool. Not only will a war there be a disaster because Islamists will come to power, but on top of it the whole thing is a gigantic fraud. No way Assad would have used chemical weapons: They are of no military use, And he knows: After the "red-line if poison gas use.." statement by Obama the US military would dispose him. More likely the rebels or Israel is behind it to draw us into the civil war. Because the rebels looked really bad recently, like they were loosing.
on August 28,2013 | 06:34AM
HD36 wrote:
But Joe Biden says "There's no doubt" that Assad used chemical weapons. Was he there? Did he personally talk to the victims? Saudi Arabia offered Russia billions of US made weapons if they would abandon support for Assad and let Quatar build a gas pipeline into Europe. The Russians declined the offer because their biggest customer for natural gas is Europe. My guess is that when the Assad government is toppled, the pipeline will go through but they will only be able to sell the gas in US dollars as a quid pro quo for the military intervention.
on August 28,2013 | 07:08AM
allie wrote:
yup..Obama is under enormous pressure from Israel to do their bidding and not the bidding of the American people. We have no interests in entering this civil war between terrorists and a vicious dictator.
on August 28,2013 | 08:32AM
Denominator wrote:
Obama is finding his feet are smaller than George Bush's shoes. Obama is now planning military action with far less international support than Bush had for Iraq. By making stupid "line in the sand" statements, he's forced to choose military action versus loss of credibility for America. Good move exlax.
on August 28,2013 | 12:54PM
allie wrote:
Stay out of this civil war please! Let Israel fight its own wars and let us put America's interest first for a change.
on August 28,2013 | 08:31AM
realist3463 wrote:
It is amazing to me how a country can be as great as ours and have the top four politicians be so clueless. There is not one iota of a reason or National interest to be involved in Syria. Syria is a tar baby from which we will not extricate ourselves before we have our finest men and women returning home in aluminum coffins.
on August 28,2013 | 07:07AM
Usagi336 wrote:
Actually it is not the politicians who are clueless. For them every move is calculated. On the contrary, everything relies on the masses being clueless and follow leaders like sheep to the slaughter. We should just wait for the UN to conclude their investigation. Everyone can still save face if all we have to do is wait.
on August 28,2013 | 08:17AM
MichaelG wrote:
The Arab league of nations has confirmed that the Syrian regime has used chemical warfare against its people. The Arab league has denounced these actions. Surely the Arab league and its partners should then take care of its problems without the USA sticking its nose into the situation. We have NO right to interfere in Syria.
on August 28,2013 | 08:08AM
sailfish1 wrote:
There is still no proof that the Syrian government used the chemical weapons. Wait for the UN inspectors to say something. At that point, if a response is needed, let England, France, Turkey, and the Arab League do it.. They are closer and have a bigger interest in the region. The U.S. is going broke and will soon have a possible government shutdown (again) due to the budget shortfall.
on August 28,2013 | 11:28AM
cojef wrote:
The "Monroe Doctrine" cannot be expanded to included the entire world. England once ruled the seas and thus interceded in world affairs. It almost bankrupted that British Empire. It's about time, we concentrate within our own borders and right the wrong that is being perpetrated by radical left in abolishing the Constitution. Mustard gas was once used in WWI and found to be untenable as a weapon as both sides were impacted by its use. There is no assurance that the rebels did not stage the incident???
on August 28,2013 | 12:02PM
Rainbowgran wrote:
We as a Nation are already broke from trying to fix the World's ills. It is time for our tax monies to be spent at home and in protection of our own country and rebuilding it's infrastructure. Across the country we could have been better off if we stayed out of Wars which is only for the warmongers to posture US strength & line their own pocketbooks. This tactic has clearly alienated our country from a lot of countries in the world. Is our debt from actually helping our citizens or putting our nose into other countries problems without even understanding all of the implications thereof. Without the backing of the UN I fear the US makes a grave mistake in going in on it's own into Syria. It is time for the US to listen & act with other UN countries & stop getting into conflicts where it becomes obvious we truly aren't wanted & don't belong & think of the long-term implications for our citizens & not only those benefitting from "the old boy system." As citizen I am ashamed of our DO NOTHING CONGRESS in which both parties do not in TRUTH look out for it's CITIZENS but look how they can line their pocketbooks lst before taking any action. We have lost enough young people in our wars and those who have survived have greatly diminished quality of life related to the horrors of war. It is time to put our National interests lst over International interests. Right now we can ill afford all around to help others before we help ourselves.
on August 28,2013 | 01:08PM
HD36 wrote:
Sources tell me there is great internal conflict between the black hats at NSA, the blacks hats in the CIA vs the Pentagon and the white hats in the CIA. The black hats are controlled by international bankers, military contractors and the Vatican. The Pentagon and the joint cheifs of staff are for the Constitution. The bottom line is that this could be payback against Russia for the Snowden incident and to show the G-20 at the upcoming meeting in St. Petersburg on Sept. 2-5, that they better not try to complete an alternative gold backed trading platform to the US Dollar because although its not backed by gold, it's still backed by the US Millitary.
on August 28,2013 | 06:48PM
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