The Battle Syria
|Carlo MuÃ±oz||December 9th 2012|
Senior U.S. defense officials are drafting plans for a potential preemptive strike against government forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad, prompted by concerns over the country's chemical weapon stockpiles. While information on the specific status of those weapons remains extremely fluid, recent U.S. intelligence showed Assad's forces outfitting air-to-ground bombs with sarin gas at two airfields in Syria, according to CNN. That latest development spurred on the Pentagon's latest strategic assessment of its military options in the country, according to several Defense Department officials.
"The more information and intelligence you have, the more clarity you can bring to options you may decide to use," a department official told CNN on Friday. "You would expect new information like this to drive an update of options," the official said.
When asked Friday about DOD's planning efforts for a possible military strike against targets inside Syria, Pentagon press secretary George Little replied that the Pentagon was "prepared for a full range of contingencies."
News of the plans caps off an intense week of warnings and ultimatums from the Obama administration to the Assad regime concerning its possible use of chemical weapons against rebel forces fighting to overthrow the longtime Syrian leader.
President Obama made "absolutely clear" during a Monday speech at the National Defense University in Washington that the use of chemical weapons by the Assad government against rebel fighters "would be totally unacceptable" and trigger an immediate and overwhelming response by the United States.
"The world is watching," according to Obama, in a warning directly aimed at Assad. "If you make the tragic mistake of using these weapons, there where be consequences, and you will be held accountable."
Days later, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta reiterated the president's comments, adding that any use of chemical weapons against Syrians would constitute crossing a "red line" that would inevitably draw a swift U.S. response.
Assad forces began shuffling around previously undisclosed stockpiles of sarin nerve agent, mustard gas and cyanide to various parts of Syria in July.
Panetta confirmed in September that U.S. intelligence officials have confirmed the location of the major caches of chemical weapons inside Syria.
However, the DOD chief admitted that American military and intelligence leaders have not been able to track a number of the smaller, more mobile weapon stockpiles in Assad's arsenal.
Further, the Pentagon or CIA were not able to confirm whether Damascus still had control of those rogue weapons, according to Panetta.
If deployed, the weapons would not only pose a threat to Syrian civilians but to the United States and its allies, should terror groups like al Qaeda get a hold of the deadly ordnance, Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), head of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, warned in July.
Carlo Munoz writes for The Hill, from where this article is adapted.