August 26, 2013

U.S. looks at limited bombing of Syria

Officials want to punish the regime for using chemical weapons but not get deeply involved in the civil war.

By KAREN DEYOUNG and ANNE GEARAN The Washington Post

(Continued from page 1)

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In this image taken from amateur video posted online, appearing to show a presumed UN staff member measuring and photographing a canister in the suburb of Moadamiyeh in Damascus, Syria, Monday Aug. 26, 2013, the suburb of Damascus where the Syrian regime allegedly used deadly chemical weapons. AP could not verify the authenticity of the video, but it is consistent with Associated Press reports. U.N. experts collected samples and testimony from Syrian doctors and victims of an alleged chemical weapons attack on Monday following a treacherous journey through government and rebel-held territory during which their convoy was struck by snipers. (AP Photo/MEDIA OFFICE OF MOADAMIYEH)

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This Aug. 21, 2013, file image provided by by Shaam News Network, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, purports to show several bodies being buried during a funeral in a suburb of Damascus, Syria. A senior administration official said Sunday, Aug. 25, 2013, that there is “very little doubt” that a chemical weapon was used by the Syrian regime against civilians in an incident that killed at least a hundred people last week, but added that the president had not yet decided how to respond. (AP Photo/Shaam News Network, File)

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"What we are talking about here is a potential response ... to this specific violation of international norms," said White House press secretary Jay Carney. "While it is part of this ongoing Syrian conflict in which we have an interest and in which we have a clearly stated position, it is distinct in that regard."

Obama and other officials have said repeatedly that no U.S. troops would be sent to Syria. But despite Obama's year-old threat of an unspecified U.S. response if Assad crossed a "red line" by using chemical weapons, even a limited military engagement seemed unlikely before Wednesday's attack near Damascus.

"This international norm cannot be violated without consequences," Kerry said.

The options under consideration are neither new nor open-ended, officials said. The use of "limited stand-off strikes" has long been among the options that the Pentagon has provided to Obama.

"Potential targets include high-value regime air defense, air, ground, missile and naval forces as well as the supporting military facilities and command nodes," Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in a June letter to Congress. "Stand-off air and missile systems could be used to strike hundreds of targets at a tempo of our choosing."

Dempsey has questioned the wisdom of direct military involvement in Syria, saying that such an operation would require "hundreds" of ships and aircraft and potentially cost "in the billions." The action being contemplated would be far smaller and designed more to send a message than cripple Assad's military and change the balance of forces on the ground. Syrian chemical weapons storage areas, which are numerous and widely dispersed, are seen as unlikely targets.

The language of international criminality has clearly resonated among U.S. allies and lawmakers.

"We will have to act," said Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence who has long opposed any U.S. intervention, including the administration's decision earlier this summer to send light arms to Syrian opposition military forces. "I don't think we can allow repeated use of chemical weapons now, an escalated use of chemical weapons, to stand," Schiff said.

Tennesee Sen. Bob Corker, the senior Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, emphasized that a U.S. strike should not be directed at altering the dynamic of Syria's larger civil war.

"I think it should be surgical. It should be proportional. It should be in response to what's happened with the chemicals," Corker said in an NBC interview. "But the fact is, I don't want us to get involved in such a way that we change that dynamic on the ground." The senator said he thought the administration's response to the attack is "imminent."

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said he had been in touch with the White House. In a statement, Boehner echoed concerns expressed by lawmakers from both parties that the administration further consults Congress before taking action.

The administration has said that it will follow international law in shaping its response. Authorization for the use of force against another nation normally comes only from the U.N. Security Council -–where Russia and China have vetoed previous resolutions against Assad – or in a NATO operation similar to the one launched in the former Yugoslavia in 1999, without a U.N. mandate.

But much of international law is untested, and administration lawyers are also examining possible legal justifications based on a violation of international prohibitions on chemical weapons use, or on an appeal for assistance from a neighboring nation such as Turkey.

Britain, France and Turkey have said that they would support action if the use of chemical weapons is confirmed, but a clear-cut case is also likely to make approval easier for allies such as Germany, which disagreed with NATO's 2011 operation in Libya despite the existence of a U.N. resolution.

"The use of chemical weapons would be a crime against civilization," German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said Monday. "The international community must act should the use of such weapons be confirmed."

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Additional Photos

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In this citizen journalism image, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, Syrians inspect the rubble of damaged buildings due to heavy shelling by Syrian government forces in Aleppo, Syria, on Monday.

The Associated Press / Aleppo Media Center AMC

  


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