U.S. PLANS 3 DAYS OF ATTACKS ON SYRIA / EUROPEAN UNION AGREES SYRIA BEHIND GAS ATTACK
Rebel fighters prepare explosive devices to be used during fighting against Syrian government forces on September 7, 2013 in Syria’s eastern town of Deir Ezzor. The United States and France claimed growing international support for military strikes to punish the Syrian regime for an alleged chemical attack, after EU nations called for a “strong response”. AFP
WASHINGTON, SEPTEMBER 9, 2013 (INQUIRER) Agence France-Presse- The Pentagon is readying more intense and longer attacks on Syria than originally planned, set to last three days, the Los Angeles Times reported Sunday.
War planners now aim to unleash a heavy barrage of missile strikes to be followed swiftly by additional attacks on targets that may have been missed or remain standing after the initial launch, the Times cited officials as saying.
Two US officers told the newspaper that the White House has asked for an expanded target list to include “many more” than the initial list of around 50 targets.
The move is part of an effort to obtain additional firepower to damage Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s dispersed forces.
Pentagon planners are now considering using Air Force bombers, as well as five US missile destroyers currently patrolling the eastern Mediterranean Sea, to launch cruise missiles and air-to-surface missiles from far out of range of Syrian air defenses, according to the report.
The USS Nimitz aircraft carrier strike group with one cruiser and three destroyers positioned in the Read Sea can also fire cruise missiles at Syria.
“There will be several volleys and an assessment after each volley, but all within 72 hours and a clear indication when we are done,” an officer familiar with the planning told the Times.
The intensified military planning comes as President Barack Obama prepares to personally make his case to the American people and further press reluctant lawmakers on the need for action after Assad allegedly used chemical weapons on his own people last month.
Obama is scheduled to tape interviews Monday with anchors of the three major broadcast networks, as well as with PBS, CNN and Fox News.
The interviews, to air that night, will precede Obama’s address to the nation Tuesday ahead of an expected full Senate vote.
The president favors a limited attack with only a reduced number of warplanes to drop bombs over Syria, according to the Times.
Amid doubts that a limited US offensive would sufficiently hamper Assad’s military capabilities, one officer told the newspaper that the planned operation would amount to a “show of force” over several days that would not fundamentally change the situation on the ground.
The planned US strike “will not strategically impact the current situation in the war, which the Syrians have well in hand, though fighting could go on for another two years,” another US officer said.
FROM THE CBC NEWS CANADA
EU agrees Syria behind gas attack, urges U.S. to hold off Wait for UN chemical-weapons report before any strike on Assad regime, countries say The Associated Press Posted: Sep 7, 2013 6:21 AM ET Last Updated: Sep 7, 2013 6:48 PM ET
The European Union agreed on Saturday that the Aug. 21 chemical attack outside Damascus appears to have been the work of the Syrian regime, but that any potential military attack against it should wait for a United Nations inspectors' report.
After meeting with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, the EU's foreign ministers ended days of division on the issue with a statement saying the available intelligence "seems to indicate strong evidence that the Syrian regime is responsible for these attacks."
Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius, who hosted the meeting, put it more bluntly in targeting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, speaking of "more and more evidence that the Assad regime is behind all these crimes. We can't just ignore this."
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The EU states, most of which have been skeptical of a quick retaliatory strike against the Syrian government, underscored "the need to move forward with addressing the Syrian crisis through the UN process." The ministers said they hope a "preliminary report of this first [UN] investigation can be released as soon as possible."
Kerry welcomed the stand of the 28 EU members, calling it "a strong statement" backing all "the efforts to hold the Assad regime accountable for what it has done."
The German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine reported Saturday that the UN chemical weapons inspectors could submit initial findings from their tests of samples collected in Syria by the end of next week. The newspaper said the interim report to UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon will likely contain details on the gas, ammunition and delivery systems used in the attack, which killed hundreds of people in a suburb of Damascus.
Instrumental in bringing the EU together around a common viewpoint was Friday's decision by French President François Hollande to wait for the UN report before deciding to intervene militarily in the Syrian civil war, even though France had said the report would only show a chemical attack had taken place, not apportion blame.
The EU ministers welcomed "President Hollande's statement to wait for this report before any further action."
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said the United States should follow France's example.
"We jointly welcomed the fact that France has decided to wait for the presentation of the United Nations report," Westerwelle told reporters. "We have also made clear our expectation toward our American partners that one should follow the example of France before capitals decide on taking further measures."
The EU ministers also stressed that perpetrators for such chemical attacks should face possible prosecution by the International Criminal Court in the Hague.
Germany joined in on blaming the attack on the Syrian government. It had been the only European member of the Group of 20 countries not to co-sign a joint statement issued Friday at the end of the G20 summit in St. Petersburg, Russia, blaming the regime.
That G-20 statement calls for a strong international response against Assad's regime but stops short of explicitly calling for military action against the Syrian government.
Germany's Westerwelle said his country wanted to wait for EU foreign ministers to agree on a common position before backing the statement.
Kerry said Saturday he would share his counterparts' concern with Obama administration officials. A senior U.S. State Department official who attended Kerry's meeting with the ministers said Kerry made clear that the U.S. has not made any decision to wait for the UN report before launching a potential strike. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to disclose details about the private meeting.
"My impression is that the American side understood our expectations and that they will consider this in their own decision-making process," Westerwelle said.
The U.S. blames Assad's regime for the chemical attack and, citing intelligence reports, says sarin gas was used. French intelligence reports have also said sarin was the agent used in the August incident, as well as in two other smaller-scale gas attacks earlier this year.
The U.S. says 1,429 people died, including 426 children.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which collects information from a network of anti-regime activists, says it has only been able to confirm 502 dead.
An estimated 100,000 Syrians have died in the country's 2½-year-old civil war, while a third of the country's 23 million people have been displaced.
Syria crisis: U.S. has few options for strike Doing too little or too much could make matters worse, warn experts CBC News Posted: Aug 31, 2013 8:12 AM ET Last Updated: Aug 30, 2013 5:58 PM ET
U.S. F-16 jets have remained in Jordan after an exercise earlier this year while B2 long-range bombers could fly from the continental United States, unseen by Syria's radar and considerable air defences. (Toby Talbot/Associated Press)
U.S. President Barack Obama faces few options and ample risk as he and his military chiefs mull a possible strike against Syria — and must first find a balance between doing too little or too much against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
A misstep in either direction could make the already gruesome situation in Syria and the surrounding region much worse, experts warn.
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Obama said Friday he is considering "limited, narrow" military intervention but has ruled out a regime-changing "boots on the ground" invasion.
U.S. and European officials say a short, sharp attack is the preferred response to what they believe is Assad's responsibility for a chemical weapons attack on rebel-held areas last week.
Obama's options are "fairly limited" said Christopher Chivvis, senior political scientist with RAND corporation, a global policy think tank, if his only goal is to punish Assad and deter the use of chemical weapons.
"You're talking pretty much about strikes against command and control sites," Chivvis told CBC News.
But even those attacks — which would most likely be limited to Tomahawk cruise missiles, launched by U.S. warships from outside Syrian airspace — must be careful not to do too much damage in case the need arises for further strikes.
"The regime needs to have something to lose," for strikes or threats to be effective, said Chivvis.
If the U.S. takes on the broader goal of more actively assisting the Syrian rebels it would likely expand its attacks to include regime runways, aircraft and other targets, he added.
Attacks on chemical weapons sites also carry the risk of releasing toxins into the air, possibly killing the very civilians the military intervention is meant to protect.
Likewise, if any technicians from Russia, a major arms supplier to Assad, were killed, this would inflame already troubled Western relations with Moscow.
"Once people are being killed you never know where that mission, that sort of event, might go," cautioned retired general Rick Hillier, Canada's former chief of defence staff, in a recent interview with CBC News.
"We have to be certain what we are trying to achieve. Because in the end, you will kill people and you will put other people at risk," he added.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Thursday said Canada has no plans for a military mission of its own against Syria, though Ottawa supports its allies and is convinced of the need for "forceful action."
Destroyers in Mediterranean The U.S. Navy has four destroyers in the eastern Mediterranean, equipped with cruise missiles, and is presumed to have also sent in a number of similarly armed submarines, though their locations are kept secret. Two U.S. aircraft carriers are in the region, as is a recently refitted French carrier.
The U.S. could have as many as 200 missiles available in the region, roughly twice the number that were fired against Libya in 2011, according to one estimate. Those strikes helped change the course of the Libyan civil war.
The U.S and France — so far the only other country willing to take part in attacks — could also fly manned aircraft out of airbases in Turkey, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates.
U.S. F-16 jets have remained in Jordan after an exercise earlier this year while B2 long-range bombers could fly from the continental United States, unseen by Syria's radar and considerable air defences.
The use of manned aircraft puts military personnel in greater danger, however.
"No one wants the risk of pilots being captured or killed,"one European defence source said on condition of anonymity.
Without some action soon, officials worry that Assad will feel he can resort to chemical weapons again with impunity — despite Obama's declaration last year that their use would cross a "red line" that would require strong action.
Some also fear lack of sufficient action in Syria could cast doubt over other U.S. "red lines," encouraging Iran to pursue its nuclear program, which Tehran says is peaceful but the United States and its allies believe aims to produce weapons.
Any failure to strike Syria could also prompt Israel to take matters into its own hands, causing yet more upheaval in an already highly unstable region. Israeli jets have already raided Syrian targets on several occasions.
Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi
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