Deter and degrade: US expands target list


David Sanger. THE  AGE.September  7, 2013

aExpanding targets in Syria: Barack Obama. Photo: Getty  Images

Washington:  US President Barack Obama has directed the Pentagon to develop  an expanded  list of potential targets in Syria.

The new planning is  a response to intelligence suggesting that  President  Bashar al-Assad’s government  has been moving troops and equipment used to  employ chemical weapons while Congress debates military action.

Officials said Mr Obama  was  determined to put more emphasis on the  ”degrade” part of  the administration’s  goal in a military strike against  Syria – to ”deter and degrade” Dr Assad’s ability to use chemical weapons.

That means expanding beyond the original list of 50 or so   main target sites  developed with French forces before Mr Obama delayed action last Saturday.

 

For the first time, the administration is talking about using US and French  aircraft to conduct strikes on specific targets, in addition to ship-launched  Tomahawk cruise missiles. There is also a renewed push to get other NATO forces  involved.

The strikes would be aimed not at the chemical stockpiles themselves – which  would risk a potential catastrophe – but rather the military units that have  stored and prepared the weapons and carried out attacks against Syrian rebels,  US military officials said on Thursday.

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin  Dempsey, said   other targets would include equipment that Syria uses to protect the chemicals –  air defences, long-range missiles and rockets, which can also deliver the  weapons.

Senior officials know  that to win the fight on Capitol Hill, they will have  to accept restrictions on the military response, yet to make the strike  meaningful they must expand its scope.

”They are being pulled in two different directions,” a senior foreign  official involved in the discussions said. ”The worst outcome would be to come  out of this bruising battle with Congress and conduct a military action that  made little difference.”’

One senior official said Mr Obama intended to become more  involved in direct  lobbying for a military authorisation  and there was  talk of  an  address to  the nation.

As the target list expands, the administration is moving closer to carrying  out military action that  could also  tip the balance on the ground, even though  the administration insists this is not the primary intent.

The bulk of the US attack is still expected to be  by cruise missiles from  some or all of the four destroyers within striking range of Syria in the eastern  Mediterranean. But military planners are now also preparing options to include  attacks by bombers which could carry more munitions, potentially allowing the US  to carry out more strikes if the first wave does not destroy the targets.

In recent days the US Navy has moved the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz into the  Red Sea, within striking distance of Syria.

But  Defence Department officials said  the carrier and its squadrons of F-18  Super Hornets  were not likely to join any attack unless Syria launched major  retaliatory strikes.

Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel told legislators on Wednesday that a US  operation would cost ”tens of millions of dollars”, the first time any  administration official has put even a rough price tag on the possible  strike.

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Moscow Reiterates Invitation to Syria Opposition Leader


RIA Novosti.December 29,2012

Syria opposition leader Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib

Syria opposition leader Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib

Russian diplomats are ready to meet with the leader of the Syrian opposition in a neutral country for peace talks, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Saturday.

“We had contacts through our embassy in Egypt with representatives of the National Coalition, including Mr. Khatib [Syrian opposition leader Moaz al-Khatib],” he said.

“We expressed readiness to meet with him in Moscow but at that moment he preferred some neutral capital, some other country. We are also ready for that,” he said during a meeting with UN mediator Lakhdar Brahimi.

On Friday, al-Khatib rejected an invitation from Russia for peace talks. In an interview on AlJazeera television he said he wanted an apology from Moscow for its support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

“We have clearly said we will not go to Moscow. We could meet in an Arab country if there was a clear agenda,” he said. “Now we also want an apology from Lavrov because all this time he said that the people will decide their destiny, without foreign intervention. Russia is intervening and meanwhile all these massacres of the Syrian people have happened, treated as if they were a picnic.”

“If we don’t represent the Syrian people, why do they invite us?” Alkhatib said. “And if we do represent the Syrian people why doesn’t Russia respond and issue a clear condemnation of the barbarity of the regime and make a clear call for Assad to step down?”

Lavrov reiterated Moscow’s position that there is no way to “persuade Assad to leave.”

“He has repeatedly stated, both publicly and non-publicly, that he will not step down and is determined to defend the Syrian people,” Lavrov said.

The National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces (SNCROF) was formed on November 11 in Doha, Qatar and proclaimed itself the legitimate representative of the Syrian people. Its legitimacy has since been recognized by Western powers but questioned by Moscow.

The conflict between the Assad regime and opposition forces in Syria has claimed the lives of more than 30,000 people since March 2011, according to UN figures.

Russia: Syria’s Assad could be defeated by rebels


By and Babak Dehghanpisheh.The Washington Post.Dec 13, 2012

Russia Syria

 left: Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov meet in Moscow. Russia’s deputy foreign minister Mikhail Bogdanov said Thursday, Dec. 13, 2012, that President Bashar Assad is losing control over Syria and his opponents may win, the first acknowledgement by Assad’s main ally that he faces a likely defeat.

Russia acknowledged for the first time on Thursday that Syrian rebels are gaining in their effort to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and a top diplomat said Moscow is bracing for the possibility that its longtime ally could lose the bloody civil war that has dragged on for nearly two years.

There was no sign that Russia — Syria’s most powerful patron — would join other foreign nations, including the United States, in supporting the opposition or pressuring Assad to step down.

Syria's most powerful ally, Russia, said President Bashar al-Assad is losing control of his country and the rebels might win the civil war, the first time Moscow has acknowledged the regime is cracking under the force of a powerful rebellion.

Syria’s most powerful ally, Russia, said President Bashar al-Assad is losing control of his country and the rebels might win the civil war, the first time Moscow has acknowledged the regime is cracking under the force of a powerful rebellion.

But after nearly two years in which Russia has sheltered Assad from U.N. condemnation and other attempts to force him out, the statement from Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov was an indication that even the Syrian government’s strongest allies are reckoning with military and diplomatic gains that rebel forces have made in recent weeks.

“The opposition’s victory, regrettably, cannot be ruled out,” Bogdanov told a Kremlin advisory body on Thursday, according to the Interfax news agency. “We need to face the truth. A current tendency is that the regime and the government keep losing control over an ever-growing territory.”

Russia has had major trade and cultural ties with Syria dating back to the Soviet Union, and it has been reluctant to turn away from its only reliable ally in the Middle East. But Bogdanov’s comments suggested that his government is beginning to confront what might happen if Syria’s government falls, despite Russia’s best efforts to protect it.

Russia’s goals then would be extricating Russian citizens living in Syria and attempting to preserve relations with whoever succeeds Assad. Bogdanov said Thursday that Russia was trying to locate its citizens in Syria and was “currently preparing for a possible evacuation. We have mobilization plans.”

Russia’s official support for Assad remains unwavering, driven in part by a sense that there is still no alternative.

“In Moscow you will find very few people who believe that after Assad, Syria will remain a governable state,” said Fyodor Lukyanov, the editor of Russia in Global Affairs and a political analyst. “The Russian Foreign Ministry in fact is very much realistic. They have no illusions. They understand what is happening there.”

But in what may have been an attempt to readjust slightly, Bogdanov said during his remarks that about half of Russians in Syria support the opposition. He noted that Russian citizens have joined opposition delegations that have visited Moscow.

In Brussels on Thursday, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Assad’s government appears to be “approaching collapse,” news services reported. Rasmussen said the defeat of the Syrian military and the fall of the government was “just a matter of time.”

Rebel forces have captured at least half a dozen Syrian military bases in the past two weeks, and they besieged the country’s main commercial airport in Damascus, effectively shutting down the facility temporarily amid heavy fighting.

The Syrian military has struck back hard, dropping bombs and firing artillery shells around Damascus, Aleppo and smaller cities. Opposition groups estimate that at least 40,000 Syrians have been killed in the conflict.

The United States and other rebel supporters moved expeditiously Wednesday to promote a Syrian opposition political front. More than 100 governments attending a Friends of Syria meeting in Marrakesh, Morocco, officially recognized the recently formed Syrian Opposition Coalition as “the legitimate representative of the Syrian people and the umbrella organization under which the Syrian opposition are gathering.”

“Bashar al-Assad has lost legitimacy and should stand aside to allow a sustainable political transition,” a declaration issued at the meeting said. President Obama announced U.S. recognition of the group Tuesday, in an interview with ABC News.

Syria’s most powerful ally, Russia, said President Bashar al-Assad is losing control of his country and the rebels might win the civil war, the first time Moscow has acknowledged the regime is cracking under the force of a powerful rebellion.

At the same time, the United States and other Western powers remain wary about some armed factions within the rebel movement. The Obama administration earlier this week designated one of the rebel military groups, the al-Nusra Front, also known as Jabhat al-Nusra, as a global terrorist organization. The administration says al-Nusra is part of the al-Qaeda organization in neighboring Iraq.

Over the course of Assad’s bloody crackdown on anti-government demonstrators and fighters over the last 20 months, Russia and China have vetoed three tough sanctions resolutions at the U.N. Security Council that were intended to punish the Syrian government.

On Wednesday, the United States and NATO said Assad’s military had launched short-range ballistic missiles against rebel forces in recent weeks, a heavy-handed and risky attack that analysts said could be an indication of the government’s desperation.

The Syrian Foreign Ministry, which describes the rebel forces as “terrorist groups,” on Thursday denied using Scud missiles. “These missiles were not used in the confrontations with the armed terrorist groups who were proved to have used advanced weapons lately, which they received from conspiring countries, in their attacks against the innocent citizens, the military forces and the public and private infrastructure,” the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) quoted an unnamed Foreign Ministry official as saying.

At least one anti-government activist appeared to scoff at the change in message from the Russian government on Thursday.

“The only thing we can tell him really is, “Finally you’re waking up to the truth?” the activist, who uses the nom de guerre Majd al-Shami, said via Skype.

“Russia has been standing on the side of the regime since the very first day of the revolution in Syria,” the activist added. “Logically, they cannot let go of the regime that easily or even fight against it, regardless of the international political situation.”

The violence in Syria continued Thursday, with reports of two car bomb attacks. One blast killed at least 16 people and injured 23 in the town of Qatana in Damascus province, according to SANA. And activists reported a second car bomb in a suburb of Damascus called Jdeidat Artouz, with 17 people believed killed.