• Thu
  • Dec 18, 2014
  • Updated: 7:54am

US ‘to hit Syria with cruise missiles’

America and its allies set to target Assad regime after concluding it launched chemical attack

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 29 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 29 August, 2013, 11:15am

Tomahawk cruise missiles are likely to be launched at night against hundreds of Syrian targets, including some of President Bashar al-Assad's elite military units, if the US and allies launch a military strike in retaliation for the use of chemical weapons.

"I'm thinking a pretty significant initial wave" of several hundred Tomahawks "and an assessment period and maybe a second wave if we don't think we accomplished the destruction we wanted to," said Jeffrey White, a former Defence Intelligence Agency analyst who is now a defence fellow with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

However, President Barack Obama said on Wednesday he had not yet signed off on a plan to strike Syria, although his administration is working with allies including the UK and France, which also have aircraft and ships armed with cruise missiles, to reach agreement on limited action against Syria after concluding that Assad's regime used chemical weapons against civilians.

Political uproar in London, meanwhile, cast doubt on whether Britain will join American military action to punish President Bashar al-Assad’s regime for a chemical weapons attack, should the response take place before next week.

A limited strike could be directed at the headquarters, facilities and depots of Assad's most elite units, the Republican Guard and the 4th Armoured Division, which some US officials think are most likely to have mounted the reported chemical weapons attack last week that opposition forces say killed about 1,300 people.

Video: UN investigates suspected chemical attack in Syria

"There are some target sets that would be important to meet the goals of a limited operation," such as the key units that "support the regime and have been bombarding civilians," White said in an interview.

A team of UN inspectors on Wednesday pressed on with its hazardous work in Damascus, testing victims of the alleged poison gas attack, which killed hundreds of people last week and threatens to draw reluctant Western states into a vicious civil war.

Obama, who has warned that the use of chemical weapons in Syria would cross a US “red line,” said Washington had definitively concluded that the Assad regime was to blame for last week’s attack.

A senior White House official said the administration will brief senior US lawmakers on Thursday about classified intelligence about the chemical attack.

Asked how close he was to ordering a US strike, expected to start with cruise missile raids, Obama told PBS NewsHour: “I have not made a decision.”

But he warned that US action would be designed to send a “shot across the bow” to convince Syria it had “better not do it again.”

A campaign extending beyond cruise missiles could add satellite-guided glide bombs dropped from Air Force F-15 or F-16 fighter jets or Navy F-18s that remain outside Syrian airspace. B-2 stealth bombers flying from their base in Missouri could drop bombs while penetrating Syria's dense air defences.


The US also could use remotely piloted aircraft, or drones, to collect intelligence, pinpoint convoys or other moving targets for cruise missile attacks or conduct their own strikes.

The introduction of ground troops isn't being considered, nor is the imposition of a no-fly zone over Syria, according to a US official who asked for anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

Brigadier General Mustapha al-Sheikh, who was among the first Syrian officers to defect from the army, said any military strike by the US and allies is likely to be modest.

"I expect a couple of strikes inside Damascus and the bulk in the provinces so there won't be a political vacuum inside Damascus," he said in an interview from Syria. "This doesn't lead to toppling the regime."

No matter how carefully targeted, any military attack comes with risks, from accidental civilian deaths that could feed anti-American sentiment in the Middle East to an escalation of chemical or other warfare by Assad's regime.

"There is a risk that the regime could withstand limited strikes by dispersing assets," Army General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, wrote in a July 19 letter to Michigan Democratic Senator Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. "Retaliatory attacks are also possible, and there is a probability for collateral damage impacting civilians and foreigners inside the country."


Related topics

More on this story

For unlimited access to:

SCMP.com SCMP Tablet Edition SCMP Mobile Edition 10-year news archive



This article is now closed to comments

John Adams
Bashar al-Assad is indeed a ruthless dictator and as such deserves to be deposed and executed.
But he is not an idiot.
I really doubt whether his side in the conflict launched chemical weapons.
Knowing the USA's past history of inventing excuses for war and evidence where it does not exist to overthrow anti-USA middle eastern countries (Iraq for one!) I have severe doubts about who really fired the chemical weapons.
I welcome it! I view further US involvement in the Middle East to be good for China. Remember Barack Obama's "pivot" towards Asia? If the US wasn't preoccupied with Muslims and the Middle East, they will start seeing China as its main rival. Look at the US elections in 2010 and 2012, when economics was the central focus. US politicians in both parties became obsessed with China and were in a race to see who was most anti-China. If the US could concentrate all of its energy on China, it will be problematic for the East Asian neighborhood, and China will never be able to rise peacefully. Thus, it is in China's interests to make the US "busy" somewhere else. The Middle East is a good place to get the US stuck in a permanent war with Muslims so China can simply ignore both of them. In a multi-polar world, if your potential rivals are busy fighting each other, you win. Furthermore, China gets most of its oil in the Middle East. The US is inadvertently using its military to keep oil flowing to Asia. China would do wise to plan for the future now, by diversifying its energy supply, to build up its economic & military strength, not because we ever want war, but we need to deter a country like the US from being able to do to China what they are doing to the Middle East. Anyone remember what Europeans did the China in the last two centuries?
Yes, any breach of the law regarding the use of NBC weapons must be appropriately sanctioned but we need absolute clarity this time. Were chemical weapons used? The evidence seems clear that they were. Who delivered them and how? It seems clear that rockets were used but not by whom or why. Why would Assad cross this red line especially when he appears to be gaining the upper hand? However, there are AQ affiliated groups among the opposition forces who who would have no qualms about using them against the civilian population hoping that the West would respond against Assad and open the door for their own radical agenda.
"Anyone remember what Europeans did the China in the last two centuries?"
China had numerous opportunities in the last two centuries to modernize, but always failed to do so due to internal conflict. The last good chance we had was the Republican era (1911-1949), and then we blew it by putting a Communist dictatorship in power which ruined the country for good. We need to give up this archaic view that Western Imperialism is to blame for China's ruins, and start modernizing the correct way.
Amoralism is trying to involve into another war in the pretext of chemical weapons' red line. That makes the weapon machinaries to profit loads of money as well as war mongers and lobbyists in the political system. Is there any proof that the Assad Regime had used chemical weapons? Or it was a false flag from the rebels to gain support from the dumb down nuts in the United States.
Good on the USA. This is an action that's come already late in the game. The Syrian government has been killing the rebels since 2011. It's about time the world police got involved.
John Adams
Agreed !
You are correct Yingyee. It was most likely caused by Nato/US backed rebels through saudi arabia. Chemical weapon caches have already been found on rebel forces. Its just a tactic by america to further their agenda by creating a excuse to weaken the Assad regime by missile strikes enough that rebel forces can take over and we can gain control over oil and natural gas in the area as well as waterways. I wish i lived in China...
Marco polo bridge incident. When obama mentioned it I knew it was his opening to get stuck in. Lets hope he gets sucked in real good...
China does not support intervention; you are on your own!



SCMP.com Account