US gears up for military action in Syria


By a Newsnet reporter

After the failure of David Cameron to gain the support of the House of Commons to authorise UK military action against Syria, the United States is gearing up to launch a military strike, possibly within days.

In a statement on Friday, US Secretary of State John Kerry said that the US had a “clear and compelling” case and “high confidence” that the Syrian government was responsible for the chemical attack last week in Damascus, which Mr Kerry said had caused the deaths of 1429 civilians including over 400 children.

Mr Kerry branded Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad as a “thug and a murderer”, saying: 

“History will judge us all extraordinarily harshly if we turn a blind eye to a dictator’s wanton use of weapons of mass destruction …  This is the indiscriminate, inconceivable horror of chemical weapons. This is what Assad did to his own people.”

Mr Kerry claimed the US was in possession of “multiple streams of intelligence” which indicated that the Syrian government had carried out the attack.  The US intelligence also points to President Assad as the “ultimate decision maker” for the country’s chemical weapons programme.

The US Secretary of State said that failure to take action would erode the nearly century-old norm against the use of chemical weapons, and would embolden Syrian allies Iran and Hezbollah.

Meanwhile in a statement on Friday evening, President Barack Obama said that “as a leader in the world” the United States has an obligation to hold states accountable if they violate “international norms”, and that the alleged gas attack was a “threat to US security interests”.

He added:  “This kind of attack is a challenge to the world.  We cannot accept a world in which women and children are gassed on a terrible scale.”

However in an apparent attempt to assuage a doubtful US public opinion, the President assured reporters that any action would be limited in scale and would not involve US personnel on the ground in Syria.

“We’re not considering any open ended commitment. We’re not considering any boots on the ground approach,”  Mr Obama said.

UN experts in Damascus have now completed their investigation into the attacks on rebel held surburbs to east of the city, and said they would “expedite” a report on whether chemical weapons had been used there.

The UN investigators are due to leave Syria on Saturday, and will report back immediately to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.  Mr Ban has called on the US and other Western countries to allow the UN team time to complete their investigation and for their findings to be analysed, however it appears that the US is unwilling to wait for the United Nations, and is set to take action without UN approval.

The US is unwilling to wait for the United Nations team as any resolution calling for military intervention will be blocked on the UN Security Council by Russia, an ally of the Syrian regime. 

Uri Ushakov, chief foreign policy aide to Russian President Vladimir Putin, said any military action that bypassed the Security Council would “deal a serious blow to the entire system of world order”.

Although the UK has now ruled out any military involvement in Syria, the Americans may be able to count on the support of France, which opposed intervention in Iraq.  French President François Hollande has said that the UK decision would not affect his government’s position.  In an interview published today with Le Monde newspaper, Mr Hollande said that France “wants wants firm and proportionate action against the Damascus regime.”

The US also has the backing of Turkey, whose Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly called for a sustained campaign to topple the Syrian regime.

The Syrian government has denied using chemical weapons against civilian targets, and claims that the attacks were engineered by the opposition.

Many observers believe that the US may initiate strikes against selected targets in Syria within the next few days, possibly as early as tomorrow after the departure of the UN team of investigators from Damascus.  President Obama is expected to leave on a trip to Sweden and Russia for the G20 summit on Tuesday, and military action would be unlikely to take place with the President out of the country.

Meanwhile the SNP, which voted against military action in the Commons vote on Thursday night, has called for the indictment of Syrian regime or opposition figures responsible for allegedly using chemical weapons.

Westminster SNP Leader and foreign affairs spokesman Angus Robertson MP said:

“The international community must prioritise efforts for a comprehensive peace settlement in Syria including justice for the victims of alleged chemical weapons attacks.

“No belligerent in Syria or elsewhere should get away with using these horrific and indiscriminate weapons and the International Criminal Court or a specially established war crimes tribunal should indict suspects.

“When I proposed this to Prime Minister David Cameron during the Syria debate he signalled this should be considered and I urge him to take this seriously.

“Following its parliamentary defeat the UK Government must refocus its foreign policy towards seeking a comprehensive settlement in Syria and stepping up humanitarian efforts.”