The United States and its allies geared up on Tuesday for a probable military strike against Syria that could come within days and would be the most aggressive action by Western powers in the Middle Eastern nation’s two-and-a-half-year civil war.
Western envoys have told the Syrian opposition to expect a military response soon against President Bashar al-Assad’s forces as punishment for a chemical weapons attack last week,according to sources who attended a meeting with the rebel Syrian National Coalition in Istanbul.
Amid a quickening drum beat of preparations,U.S. Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel said American forces in the region were “ready to go” if President Barack Obama gave the order.
Obama – long reluctant to intervene in the Syrian conflict – worked to solidify allied support,including calling the leaders of Britain and Canada,while U.S. intelligence agencies assembled what they are sure to say is final confirmation of the Syrian government’s culpability for Wednesday’s poison gas attack near Damascus.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said it would “fanciful” to think that anyone other than Assad’s forces was behind the large-scale chemical attack,which activists said killed hundreds of people as they slept.
“There is no doubt who is responsible for this heinous use of chemical weapons in Syria: the Syrian regime,” Vice President Joe Biden said at a speech in Houston to the American Legion,a military veterans’ group.
Obama has yet to make a final decision on the U.S. response,Carney said,but left little doubt that it would involve military action. He insisted,however,that Washington was not intent on “regime change,” signalling that any military strikes would be limited and not meant to topple Assad.
The British military was also drafting plans. Prime Minister David Cameron,anxious,like Obama,not to emulate entanglements in wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that beset their predecessors,said any strikes would be “specific” so as not to drag the allies deeper into Syria’s civil war.
Cameron,who consulted with Obama on Tuesday for the second time in four days,recalled parliament for a debate on Syria on Thursday.
U. N. chemical weapons investigators put off until Wednesday a second trip to the rebel-held suburbs of Damascus where the chemical attack took place.
While evidence of chemical warfare could bolster an argument for intervention at the United Nations in the face of likely Russian and Chinese opposition,Western leaders and the Arab League have already declared Assad guilty.
Ahmad Jarba,president of the Syrian National Coalition,met envoys from 11 countries at an Istanbul hotel,including the U.S. ambassador to Syria,Robert Ford. The rebel leaders proposed targets for cruise missiles and bombing.
One participant said: “The opposition was told in clear terms that action to deter further use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime could come as early as in the next few days.”
Planning appears to focus on missile or air strikes. There is little public support in Western countries for troops to invade Syria.
“We have moved assets in place to be able to fulfil and comply with whatever continued…