US expands list of potential targets in Syria

American-led strike could last two days, include the use of US, French aircraft, and target military units that handle chemical weapons

US Navy aircraft flying in formation in August. (photo credit: Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Ramon G. Go/US Navy, Department of Defense)
US Navy aircraft flying in formation in August. (photo credit: Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Ramon G. Go/US Navy, Department of Defense)

President Barack Obama has instructed the Pentagon to expand the list of potential targets in Syria in case of a US-led strike, in response to a reported chemical weapons attack perpetrated by the Assad regime on August 21.

According to a report in the New York Times on Friday, the Obama order came in response to intelligence indications that the Syrian government has moved troops and equipment used to employ chemical weapons.

Officials cited in the report said that Obama is now focused on degrading the capabilities of the Assad government, expanding beyond the list of 50 or so initial sites to be targeted in a strike. The original list was reportedly developed with France.

The Obama administration is also reportedly considering using US and French aircraft to conduct the strikes in addition to ship-launched missiles, and is renewing efforts to get NATO involved.

This account was corroborated by a report on CNN quoting a US official who said: “You can employ stand-off weapons from an aircraft, just as easily as from a ship or submarine. Aerial assets can be used from a distance.”

The official added that this new development would “not fundamentally change the parameters of the mission.”

The potential air campaign could last two days and would include long-range B-2 and B-52 stealth bombers which would fire guided missiles beyond the range of Syrian air defense systems, ABC News reported.

“The strikes would be aimed not at the chemical stockpiles themselves — risking a potential catastrophe — but rather the military units that have stored and prepared the chemical weapons and carried the attacks against Syrian rebels, as well as the headquarters overseeing the effort, and the rockets and artillery that have launched the attacks,” the Times’ report read, citing military officials.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey has indicated that targets would include “equipment that Syria uses to protect the chemicals — air defenses, long-range missiles and rockets, which can also deliver the weapons,” according to the report.

Obama is seeking congressional approval for a US-led strike, having gained authorization from a Senate panel Wednesday to order an attack, the limits of which include a time frame of 90 days and the exclusion of American boots on the ground.

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