WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama has directed the Pentagon to develop an expanded list of potential targets in Syria in response to intelligence suggesting that the government of President Bashar Assad has been moving troops and equipment used to employ chemical weapons while Congress debates whether to authorize military action.
Obama is now determined to put more emphasis on the "degrade" part of what the administration has said is the goal of a military strike against Syria — to "deter and degrade" Assad's ability to use chemical weapons, the New York Times reported, citing unnamed U.S. officials. That means expanding beyond the 50 or so major sites that were part of the original target list developed with French forces before Obama delayed action Saturday to seek congressional approval of his plan.
For the first time, the administration is talking about using American and French aircraft to conduct strikes on specific targets, in addition to ship-launched Tomahawk cruise missiles, and there is a renewed push to get other NATO forces involved.
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, military officials said Thursday.
Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has said that other targets would include equipment that Syria uses to protect the chemicals.
The bulk of the U.S. attack is still expected to be carried out by cruise missiles from some or all of the four Arleigh Burke-class destroyers in the eastern Mediterranean.
But military planners are now preparing options to include attacks from U.S. Air Force bombers, a development reported Thursday by the Wall Street Journal. Bombers could carry scores more munitions, potentially permitting the U.S. to carry out more strikes if the first wave does not destroy the targets.
Among the options available are B-52 bombers, which can carry air-launched cruise missiles; B-1s that are based in Qatar and carry long-range, air-to-surface missiles; and B-2 stealth bombers, which are based in Missouri and carry satellite-guided bombs.