Syria crisis: Obama hints at wider action against Assad
US attack may seek to 'degrade' Syria's military, but Assad says intervention risks a regional war
THERE are indications that President Obama is planning much wider military action against Syria’s Assad regime than previously thought.
Rather than a "shot across the bow" designed to dissuade the regime from further chemical weapons attacks, the military strike would seek to substantially "degrade" the Syrian government’s military capability.
Such an attack would target military aircraft, artillery and the rockets the White House believes were used to launch a sarin gas attack in the Damascus suburbs on 21 August. The attack could be supported by an increase in US help for the Syrian rebels.
The notion that Obama is planning a more broad-reaching intervention emerged overnight after Republican senator John McCain attended a meeting at the White House. McCain told the New York Times he was "encouraged" that the Obama administration was planning a military intervention that would substantially "degrade" Assad’s military capability while also lending more support to the Syria rebels. No specific details of that support were discussed, McCain said.
The paper points out that McCain has previously said he would support US intervention in a Congress vote if "the president did more to arm the Syrian rebels and the attack was punishing enough to weaken the Syrian military."
McCain says he was also informed by the White House that a covert effort by the US to arm and train Syrian rebels was beginning to yield results. The first "50-man cell of fighters, who have been trained by the CIA" had begun operations in Syria, he said.
Republican senator Lindsay Graham, who also attended the meeting at the White House, said: "It is all in the details, but I left the meeting feeling better… that the purpose of the attack is going to be a little more robust than I thought."
Here is a round-up of other key developments:
French intelligence dossier says Assad launched chemical attack: France has released a nine-page intelligence dossier that says President Assad carried out a "massive and co-ordinated" chemical attack that is believed to have killed hundreds of people on 21 August, The Guardian reports. The document is based on a detailed technical analysis of evidence from the site of the atrocity supplemented by "additional elements gathered in co-operation with our principal partners".
The French dossier states: "Syria has one of the most important operational stocks of chemical weapons as part of an old and diversified programme that has been the subject of surveillance by the French [intelligence] services, and those of our principle partners, for a long time. This programme is one of the primary threats in terms of the proliferation of arms of massive destruction …"
The dossier concludes that "on 21 August 2013 the Syrian regime launched an attack on certain areas of the Damascus suburbs held by opposition units, using a combination of conventional weapons and the massive use of chemical weapons."
Assad warns of "regional war" if US attacks Syria: In an interview with Le Figaro, Assad warned the US and France they risked setting off a "powder keg" if they attack his regime. He also repeated his denial that his forces had used chemical weapons, saying such an attack would be "illogical".
"Those who make accusations must show evidence," Assad told the paper. "We challenge the United States and France to do this. Obama and Hollande have been incapable of doing this, including for their own people."
Assad said an attack on Syria would unleash "chaos and extremism" and possibly lead to a regional war.
Putin under growing pressure: Russia’s President Putin will be confronted with an array of evidence about the use of chemical weapons in Syria when he attends the G20 summit in St Petersburg this week. He will also be urged to show a "new diplomatic flexibility", says The Guardian and "come closer" to accepting that President Assad has to stand aside.
Russia has been the Syrian government’s staunchest ally, but evidence collected by Western intelligence agencies will turn up the pressure on its president to adopt a more flexible approach to the crisis, the paper says.
More than two million refugees have fled Syria: More Syrians are now displaced than any other nationality, the UNHCR has said. At least 700,000 have fled to Lebanon and the threat of US strikes means the exodus will continue. "Syria is haemorrhaging women, children and men who cross borders often with little more than the clothes on their backs," the UNHSCR said in a statement. Around half of those forced to leave are children, with about three-quarters of them under 11. ·