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Momentum grows for military action against Syria

By Albert Aji & Gregory Katz

Associated Press

POSTED:
LAST UPDATED: 03:29 a.m. HST, Aug 28, 2013


DAMASCUS, Syria » Momentum appeared to build Tuesday for Western military action against Syria, with the U.S. and France saying they are in position for a strike, while the government in Damascus vowed to use all possible measures to repel it.

The prospect of a dramatic U.S.-led intervention into Syria's civil war stemmed from the West's assertion — still not endorsed by U.N. inspectors — that President Bashar Assad's government was responsible for an alleged chemical attack on civilians outside Damascus on Aug. 21 that the group Doctors Without Borders says killed 355 people. Assad denies the claim.

The Arab League also threw its weight behind calls for punitive action, blaming the Syrian government for the attack and calling for those responsible to be brought to justice.

British Prime Minister David Cameron recalled Parliament to hold an emergency vote Thursday on his country's response. It is unlikely that any international military action would begin before then.

U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said U.S. military forces stand ready to strike Syria at once if President Barack Obama gives the order, and French President Francois Hollande said France was "ready to punish those who took the heinous decision to gas innocents."

Obama is weighing a response focused narrowly on punishing Assad for violating international agreements that ban the use of chemical weapons. Officials said the goal was not to drive Assad from power or impact the broader trajectory of Syria's bloody civil war, now in its third year.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Monday the West should be under no illusion that bombing Syrian military targets would help end the violence in Syria, an ally of Moscow, and he pointed to the volatile situations in Iraq and Libya that he said resulted from foreign military intervention.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem said his country would use "all means available" to defend itself.

"We have the means to defend ourselves and we will surprise everyone," he said.

At a news conference in Damascus, al-Moallem challenged Washington to present proof to back up its accusations and he also likened the allegations to false American charges in 2003 that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction before the U.S.-led invasion of that country.

"They have a history of lies — Iraq," he said.

Vice President Joe Biden said there was no question that Assad was responsible for the attack — the highest-ranking U.S. official to say so — and the White House dismissed as "fanciful" the notion that anyone other than Assad could be to blame.

"Suggestions that there's any doubt about who's responsible for this are as preposterous as a suggestion that the attack did not occur," spokesman Jay Carney said.

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.

The United Nations said its team of chemical weapons experts in Syria had delayed a second trip to investigate the alleged attack by one day for security reasons. On Monday, the team came under sniper fire.

If Obama decides to order an attack against Syria, it would most likely involve sea-launched cruise missile attacks on Syrian military and communications targets.

Hagel said the U.S. Navy had four destroyers in the eastern Mediterranean Sea positioned within range of targets inside Syria. U.S. warplanes were also in the region, he told BBC television during a visit to the southeast Asian nation of Brunei.

In Cyprus, Defense Minister Fotis Fotiou said naval traffic in the eastern Mediterranean was very heavy with vessels from "all the major powers." He also said Cypriot authorities were planning to deal with a possible exodus of foreign nationals from Syria.

U.S. military intervention in Syria was running into fierce opposition from some members of Congress. A growing chorus of Republican and Democratic lawmakers demanded that Obama seek congressional authorization for any strikes against the Assad regime.

Charles Heyman, a former British officer who edits The Armed Forces of the UK, said the lack of a U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing the use of force against the Syrian government greatly complicates matters for the West. He said that may make it difficult for Cameron to win parliamentary backing.

"It's clear the governments want some form of military operation, but if the Security Council doesn't recommend it, then the consensus is that it's plainly illegal under international law," Heyman said. "The only legal way to go to war is in self-defense and that claim is difficult to make."

Russia, a permanent member of the Security Council, has steadfastly opposed any international action against Syria.

Italian Foreign Minister Emma Bonino said her country would not back any military action against Syria unless it was authorized by the Security Council — even though it considers a chemical attack to be a war crime.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said Monday that if the Syrian government were proven to have been behind the gas attack, then Germany would support "consequences." But with less than four weeks until national elections, it is unlikely Germany would commit any forces.

Center-left opposition parties have rejected military intervention without U.N. proof that the Syrian government was behind the attack. And a senior member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's party said the German military was already at "the breaking point" due to commitments in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

Support for some sort of international military response is likely to grow if it is confirmed that Assad's regime was responsible.

The U.N confirmed its chemical weapons team's mission faced a one-day delay today to improve preparedness and safety after unidentified snipers opened fire on the team's convoy Monday.

In Geneva, U.N. spokeswoman Alessandra Vellucci said the U.N. inspection team might need longer than the planned 14 days to complete its work. She said its goal is to determine what chemical weapons might have been used in the Aug. 21 attack.

The Obama administration is making a legal argument for undertaking a military response to the use of chemical weapons against civilians in Syria, but said any action against the Syrian regime is not intended to depose Assad.

Carney said the United States and 188 other nations are signatories to a chemical weapons convention opposing the use of such weapons. Those countries have a stake in ensuring that international norms must be respected and there must be a response to a clear violation of those norms, he said.

In a veiled allusion to difficulties in getting any strong action through the Security Council, France's Hollande said that "international law must evolve with the times. It cannot be a pretext to allow mass massacres to be perpetrated."

He then went on to invoke France's recognition of "the responsibility to protect civilian populations" that the U.N. General Assembly approved in 2005.

Obama discussed Syria today with Prime Minister Stephen Harper of Canada, a NATO ally, and in recent days with Cameron, Hollande and Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.

Harper's office said he agreed with the assessment that the Assad regime used chemical weapons against its own people, and called it an outrage that requires a "firm response," without defining what that might entail.

In supporting calls for action against Syria, the 22-member Arab League, which is dominated by Gulf powerhouses Saudi Arabia and Qatar, provides indirect Arab cover for any potential military attack by Western powers.

At an emergency meeting, the Arab League also urged members of the Security Council to overcome their differences and agree on "deterrent" measures.

"The council holds the Syrian regime totally responsible for this heinous crime and calls for all involved in the despicable crime to be given a fair international trial like other war criminals," the Arab League said in a statement.

Heyman predicted a possible three-phase campaign, with the first step — the encirclement of Syria by Western military assets by air and sea — already underway.

"Phase two would be a punitive strike, taking out high-value command and control targets and communications centers," Heyman said. "That could be done easily with cruise missiles from ships and aircraft. Phase three would be a massive takedown of Syrian air defenses. That would have to be done before you could take out artillery and armor, which is the key to long-term success."

Katz reported from London. Also contributing were Associated Press writers Zeina Karam and Bassem Mroue in Beirut, John Heilprin in Geneva, Julie Pace and Matthew Lee in Washington, Lori Hinnant in Paris, Lynn Berry in Moscow, Menelaos Hadjicostis in Cyprus, Sarah El Deeb in Cairo and Charmaine Noronha in Toronto.







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allie wrote:
Israel gave the order to Obama and mr skeptical and mr. cautious is now a drooling warrior. Bush redux!
on August 27,2013 | 11:50AM
Grimbold wrote:
Allie , I think you are right. Israel has the most cunning intelligence and they manipulate facts the way they like.
on August 27,2013 | 12:36PM
saywhatyouthink wrote:
Israel wants us to attack Iran, not Syria. I think you're both confused.
on August 27,2013 | 08:17PM
HD36 wrote:
Iran is in Syria through Hezbollah, helping to fight the terrorists.
on August 27,2013 | 08:20PM
SteveToo wrote:
Don't be a B-O-Z-O allie. If we attack Syria, Israel will catch hell for the action not us. I don't think they want us to do anything.
on August 27,2013 | 04:54PM
CriticalReader wrote:
Israel can't handle a chemical weapons war spilling over. I agree with Allie.
on August 27,2013 | 05:23PM
saywhatyouthink wrote:
They want us to bomb Iran, not Syria. Syria is no threat to Israel which still occupies the Golan heights region of Syria and has since winning the last war.
on August 27,2013 | 08:26PM
palisadesron wrote:
We do not need to get bogged down in another conflict where there will be no winners, only losers.
on August 27,2013 | 12:02PM
serious wrote:
Correct, but the MAN who was in the lead Seal helicopter--according to HIM, will lead us into another no win situation. It's not just a GOP thing. Both parties can be really stupid!!
on August 27,2013 | 12:14PM
allie wrote:
yup..when it comes to sacrificing America's interests to Israel's, both parties are totally subservient. What a price we pay for it...
on August 27,2013 | 12:44PM
allie wrote:
agree..but Obama fears Israel and the consequences of going against their demands. This so-called alliance has cost America dearly
on August 27,2013 | 12:43PM
HD36 wrote:
You don't get elected to congress without the AIPAC approval.
on August 27,2013 | 08:21PM
NiteMarcher wrote:
How very, very true!
on August 27,2013 | 09:56PM
false wrote:
Be careful and wise before taking action does the U.S. want to enter another protracted war like Iraq and Afghanistan. Many lives were lost not to mention the serious injuries.
on August 27,2013 | 12:14PM
Skyler wrote:
Bad idea.
on August 27,2013 | 12:15PM
fiveo wrote:
US military attack against Syria could ignite WWIII as it is not likely that Russia and China will allow the Obama to use military force without the okay of the UN let alone the Congress and the support of the American people. They are beginning to realize that Obama will act with total disregard to international law. Under those circumstances, they will be forced to protect themselves as the US takes unilateral action without proof that Assad was responsible. Secretary of State John Kerry himself stated that it did not matter who did the gas attack in his news conference yesterday. So if you take him at this word, the gas attack is just a convenient excuse for the US to attack Syria militarily. Once the shooting starts, things will spin out of control with Iran probably attacking Israel. Israel will respond with their nuclear weapons (yes, they will the bomb) and their cruise missile equipped dolphin submarines which probably have nuclear warheads. Iran will probably also release the forces they support like Hamas and Shiite Moslems worldwide to attack the West. End of the world.
on August 27,2013 | 12:26PM
inverse wrote:
If Obama engages in a war against Syria, US will declare war on the Muslim Brotherhood and basically by default almost ALL Muslims in general. It it almost inevitable that Tom Clancy's the Sum of All Fears scenario in which terrorists detonate a nuclear weapon in the US will happen. Iran and N Korea are acquiring enough weapons grade uranium and eventually they will get into the hands of muslim extremists like Al Qaeda. If you take entire countries, scientists, etc that are Muslim or Muslim sympathisers; money, expertise, and logistics to build nuclear bombs, that are the REAL weapons of mass destruction beyond use of poisonous gas, will not be a problem.
on August 27,2013 | 12:34PM
allie wrote:
wise...we all ought to insist that America protect its own interests. We have suffered horribly from two failed wars.
on August 27,2013 | 12:45PM
aomohoa wrote:
Innocent people on both sides have suffered.
on August 27,2013 | 03:07PM
TLehel wrote:
I agree. The collaboration of multiple terrorist organizations is not unlikely. If they have a common enemy (the US) then I'm sure they can get along long enough to do something horrible. Personally, I think this whole thing is a false flag operation. Just another way for the US to do things it has no right to do *cough* Iraq *cough*. Starp yourselves in people, it's gonna be another long ride.
on August 27,2013 | 01:04PM
Pacej001 wrote:
You don't think this sort of thing is already in the works? I do. While there are no good options with Syria, doing nothing will not protect us from the lunatics that already infest radical islam.
on August 27,2013 | 01:10PM
fiveo wrote:
World War III is about to start. End of the world as we know it.
on August 27,2013 | 01:26PM
tiki886 wrote:
This comment has been deleted.
on August 27,2013 | 02:26PM
juscasting wrote:
Agree, more like WW II.1/10.
on August 27,2013 | 02:34PM
lew4543 wrote:
What Syria did may be wrong, but it should not be up to the United States to try to make everytihing right for every citizen on this planet. We should take care of our own first. We don't have enough money or a budget to run our own country but can always find the money to start a war somewhere. We cannot afford to fight every government on this planet. We cannot afford to spread our forces that thin. When it comes time to protect our own homeland, we won't have the troops available to do the job.
on August 27,2013 | 02:41PM
NiteMarcher wrote:
The military industrial complex believes in war...money to be made.
on August 27,2013 | 10:02PM
Ratrase wrote:
I guess a "peace break" between wars is out of the question.
on August 27,2013 | 03:25PM
HawaiiCheeseBall wrote:
Yea great idea, launch a few missiles, drop a few bombs, then what? Go home, cook rice, the Syrian civil war and all of its atrocities just keep on going.
on August 27,2013 | 04:41PM
tiki886 wrote:
This comment has been deleted.
on August 27,2013 | 09:22PM
inverse wrote:
No. If the US gets involved, all that hate and internal strife between waring factions become less important than the collective hate against the BULLY United States. ALL muslims will now have a rallying point to focus their hate and anger against their common enemy, the US. McCain and other war mongers are wrong. US should NOT get militarily involved at this time in Syria. Not a nice thing to say but if Obama bombs Syria, the Hawaii visitor industry will continue to be strong, even expand. Why? Because anti US sentiment will increase hundred fold throughout the world making American tourists greater targets for harm, hence American travelers know to stay in relatively 'safe' places like Hawaii. Just pointing this out.
on August 28,2013 | 02:54AM
LittleEarl_01 wrote:
Here the US goes again, rattling the sword of war. Easy to do when you sit in Washington to send our young men and women to fight and die. And For What? It's time we quit playing the world's police force and let these countries self detonate themselves.
on August 27,2013 | 04:43PM
64hoo wrote:
forget Syria, lets see there accused of using a chemical weapon to kill a few hundred people and suddenly all these nations want action taken. where was all these countries the last year or 2 when over a 100,000 people have been killed in this civil war. just stay out US and let them kill each other off. they will never thank us for helping them, because all of the people in Syria hate us. govt. troops and rebels would turn on us in a heartbeat.
on August 27,2013 | 04:48PM
SteveToo wrote:
Obama has no constitutional power to attack Syria or any other country for that matter w/o the consent of Congress. Hasn't anyone read the Constitution lately???????? And if The Arab League wants to do something then they should do it on there own and not bring us into another war in the Mid-East that can't be won w/out killing all the Muslims that live there.
on August 27,2013 | 04:53PM
NiteMarcher wrote:
That's right. And right now I don't think many of them in Congress, on the right and left, wishes to get involved.
on August 27,2013 | 10:05PM
kuroiwaj wrote:
Is Sec. Kerry lying? I had a PTSD flashback as a combat veteran in 1969 in listening to Mr. Kerry's testimony about us combat troops in the Vietnam war as I listed to his words during his press conference. Wow, it was almost word for word. He lied big time then, and is he lying again this time. We still are not certain who pushed the button to release the nerve gas. Was it Assad, or was it the rebels.
on August 27,2013 | 06:36PM
NiteMarcher wrote:
How do we know it wasn't a covert operation?
on August 27,2013 | 10:06PM
inverse wrote:
You are exactly correct. Like Clancy's movie Sum of all Fears, the Russian President did not authorize a missile attack but would NOT say it was a rogue faction of his military that launched the missiles because he felt he would look like a weak leader if everyone knew he did not have full control of his military forces. Saddam Hussein took that same 'tough guy' stance regarding the US making accusations (ie Colin Powell at the United Nations) with fake claims of Iraqi 'mobile chemical weapons' factories. Hussein had to save face and not appear weak when the Bush 2 started ramping the BS rhetoric to invade Iraq for the 2nd time. The death and maiming of thousands of American soldiers and loss of US resources was basically for nothing, Obama could not possibly take America down that failed road again, for the reason other than to save face because he made his Syria better not 'cross the red line' comment?
on August 28,2013 | 03:23AM
soundofreason wrote:
Yeah, let's go kick some more bee nests. THAT'LL work out fine. Don't we have our own problems right now? Shouldn't the other Arab countries care BEFORE we decide that we do?
on August 27,2013 | 07:33PM
HD36 wrote:
Yes, funny how the largest debtor nations, the US, England, and France are so eager to plunge into war.
on August 27,2013 | 08:43PM
iwanaknow wrote:
A tar baby of the biggest kind.
on August 27,2013 | 08:21PM
saywhatyouthink wrote:
Let them fight their own war, both sides hate the US, we should stay out of it unless the UN security council authorizes force against Assad.
on August 27,2013 | 08:22PM
tiki886 wrote:
This comment has been deleted.
on August 27,2013 | 09:38PM
Eradication wrote:
You've said this three (or more times) already. Saying it again does not have more meaning...
on August 27,2013 | 11:03PM
false wrote:
Nonononononono!!!!!! Stupid idea. If he thinks this will make us think he has cojones, he's sorely mistaken.
on August 27,2013 | 08:24PM
tiki886 wrote:
This comment has been deleted.
on August 27,2013 | 09:31PM
NiteMarcher wrote:
I really don't believe this is about oil anymore. The ushering in of the NWO is about to begin this year and into the next.
on August 27,2013 | 10:09PM
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