September 7, 2013

Syria Briefing

Delaying U.S. retaliation may increase effectiveness

A demonstrator displays a placard during a protest against possible U.S. attacks on Syria, outside the U.S. embassy in Kuala Lumpur
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Protesters have been gathering around the world during the past week to speak out against a U.S. campaign against Syria. Here, a demonstrator displays a placard outside the U.S. embassy in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on Friday.


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WASHINGTON - A delay to let Congress debate authorization for U.S. military strikes sets up a cat-and-mouse game in Syria, giving Bashar Assad time to seek hiding places for troops and equipment as the Pentagon steps up surveillance to find targets for Tomahawk cruise missiles.

The Syrian president's regime is already "moving resources around" and placing prisoners or other civilians in places it thinks the United States may attack, Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told lawmakers at a House hearing Wednesday.

The delay, though, isn't just to Assad's advantage, Dempsey said.

"Time works both ways," he told a Sept. 3 Senate hearing . "We have some pretty significant intelligence capabilities and we continue to refine our targets."

President Obama announced Aug. 31 that he would ask Congress to support his decision to launch a military strike, "limited in duration and scope," in response to an Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack near Damascus. At the time, Obama said Dempsey told him "that our capacity to execute this mission is not time-sensitive -- it will be effective tomorrow, or next week, or one month from now."

Karl Mueller, an air-power analyst with the Rand Corp., a U.S. sponsored research organization, said Dempsey's correct to suggest that, by shifting men and materiel, Assad may expose them to U.S. surveillance. "Moving things around in the process of hiding them can make them more visible" to intelligence agencies, Mueller said in an email. "So the idea that delay helps us make an attack that's more effective is plausible."

-- Bloomberg News

Russia adding naval ships in eastern Mediterranean

MOSCOW - Three Russian naval ships were sailing toward Syria in the eastern Mediterranean on Friday and a fourth was on its way, the Interfax news agency reported, citing a source at navy headquarters.

Kremlin chief of staff Sergei Ivanov said Thursday that Russia was boosting its naval presence in the Mediterranean Sea, but primarily in order to organize a possible evacuation of Russians from Syria. He did not say how many vessels were being sent.

The prospect of increased Russian naval presence near Syria has stoked fears of a larger international conflict if the United States orders airstrikes over an Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack in a suburb of Damascus, the Syrian capital. The U.S. already has numerous warships in the Mediterranean.

Two Russian amphibious landing vessels and a reconnaissance ship have passed through the Dardanelles strait, according to the report carried by Interfax, a privately owned agency known for its independent contacts within Russia's armed forces.

Three Russian war ships were seen sailing through the Bosporus in Istanbul, Turkey, on Thursday.

Interfax reported that another landing ship had left the Black Sea port of Sevastopol on Friday morning and was to pick up a "special cargo" in Novorossiysk before sailing toward the eastern Mediterranean. The state RIA Novosti news agency also said that the landing ship Nikolai Filchenkov would be headed toward Syria after picking up cargo in Novorossiysk, which it said would take several days.

-- The Associated Press

U.N. chief, Syrian mediator criticize potential U.S. action

NEW YORK - U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and his top Syria mediator sharply but indirectly criticized potential U.S. military strikes against Syria, saying any additional use of force could exacerbate the country's civil war while violating international law.

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