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.