US said to be positioning forces around Syria
The Pentagon is putting forces into place should president Barack Obama call for military action against Syria, where president Assad’s regime carried out an alleged chemical weapons attack in the capital Damascus.
On Wednesday details emerged of the massacre of up to 1,700 civilians, many of whom were women and children. Barack Obama responded by ordering US intelligence to “urgently gather” evidence about the attack, and a State Department spokesperson said that, if true, the use of chemical weapons by Syria’s regime would be “an outrageous and flagrant escalation” of the conflict.
The attack has been condemned worldwide, and, amid calls for military intervention, US commanders are formulating a range of “options” for Mr Obama in case he decides to launch an attack on the regime.
US defence secretary Chuck Hagel would not provide details on the positioning of US troops, but said “the Defence Department has a responsibility to provide the president with options for all contingencies.” Mr Hagel also declined to comment on a CBS News report stating that the Pentagon was making “initial preparations” for a cruise missile attack.
In an interview with CNN’s New Day programme, the US president described the incident in Damascus as “clearly a big event of grave concern”, and the horrifying nature of the event and its involvement of a large number of civilians has determined a rapid response from the US government.
Foreign secretary William Hague has said the only “plausible explanation for casualties so intense in such a small area” was a chemical attack. In a statement on television, he said the chances the Syrian opposition was behind the attack were “vanishingly small. We do believe this is a chemical attack by the Assad regime on a large scale”.
Officials say Mr Obama’s security advisers will assemble at the White House this weekend to discuss US options, including possible military action against the Syrian government. However American newspapers have suggested disagreements within the Obama administration pertaining to the potential risks of another US intervention in the Middle East.
The US government has stressed that no clear decision had been taken on whether to employ military force against president Assad’s regime, and Mr Hagel has said that the US will work closely with its allies in planning a response.