News / USA

US Military Has Myriad Ways to Strike Syria in Potential Operation

International military deployments directed toward Syria
International military deployments directed toward Syria
Should the United States decide to go ahead with military action against the Syrian government for the suspected use of chemical weapons, military planners will have a range of air, naval and ground assets at their disposal.
The government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has denied responsibility for the August 21 attacks in several rebel-held Damascus suburbs and blamed the killings of hundreds of civilians in those areas on rebels. But top U.S. officials have spoken publicly of the need for accountability, and U.S. President Barack Obama has said a targeted strike could "send a shot across the bow," and help ensure chemical weapons are not again used against innocent civilians.
The U.S. military has five Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyers in the Mediterranean, in the 6th Fleet Area of Responsibility. At least two are already in the eastern Mediterranean, close to the Syrian coast.
Naval deployments
Alexandria, Virginia-based security analyst John Pike of GlobalSecurity.Org says each destroyer has the capacity to hold almost 100 Tomahawk missiles and likely carries at least dozens of the weapons.
U.S. manufacturer Raytheon says the missile can "circle for hours, shift course instantly on command, and beam a picture of its target to controllers halfway around the world."
Other U.S. naval assets in the Middle East include two aircraft carriers: the USS Harry S. Truman in the Red Sea and the USS Nimitz in the North Arabian Sea.
The United States could send additional warplanes into Syria from air bases that it shares with allies in Europe and the Gulf.
Regional air bases
Turkey is home to one of the nearest air bases to Syria: Incirlik. Turkish officials have said previously Ankara would be ready to take part in any international action against Assad and has put its armed forces on alert.
While key U.S. ally Britain now says it will not take part in any military strike, U.S. ally and NATO member France is still calling for a military response. U.S. warplanes in Western Europe also could be positioned closer to the region by moving to bases in Italy.
Deploying U.S. fighter jets from Gulf air bases in Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Oman would be trickier. Gulf states including Saudi Arabia oppose Assad, but any warplanes heading from their territory toward Syria would need permission to fly over one of three other Arab states.
In an interview with the French news agency (AFP), a spokesman for Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said Iraq will "not agree to any use of our airspace... to attack any neighboring country."
The other nations, Egypt and Jordan, have not said whether they would allow over-flights of their territory as part of any military action against the Syrian government. The Washington embassies of the two states did not respond to a VOA request for comment, but their governments have aligned themselves with opponents of President Assad.
Still, getting help from other countries in the region may be tricky. This week the Arab League condemned the alleged chemical weapons attack, blaming the Syrian government, but did not call for military action, instead demanding those responsible be put on trial.
Additionally, Pike said long flight paths from the Gulf to Syria also could require airborne refueling for U.S. warplanes. He said it would be "more straightforward" for the United States to use aircraft in Turkey or move its two aircraft carriers from nearby waters into the Mediterranean.
Ground forces
The U.S. military also has hundreds of personnel in Jordan, based at the King Abdullah II Special Operations Training Center northeast of Amman.
They include personnel from the U.S. Central Command and members of the U.S. Army's 1st Armored Division who were sent to the kingdom earlier this year to help Jordanian troops respond to any attacks from Syria or a spillover of chemical weapons.
In addition to troops, the U.S. military sent Patriot air defense missiles and F16 fighters to Jordan for a military exercise in June, and kept them there when it was over.
Pike said any U.S. military operation using these forces likely would have one of two main objectives: restoring U.S. deterrence against the use of chemical weapons in Syria, or taking those weapons out of the hands of Syria's combatants.
"What Obama has to do to restore deterrence is inflict so much pain on the Assad regime that it will refrain from using chemical weapons again," he said.
He said it appears the Obama administration favors carrying out a small-scale strike using missiles rather than warplanes. Such a strike could target government or security buildings or even the Syrian air force.
But Pike said justifying attacks on such targets could be challenging for the United States.
"Inevitably people will say why did you blow that up? You could blow up Assad's palaces, and people will say that looks too much like assassination. You could hit his security buildings and air force, but people would ask what they have to do with chemical weapons."
Alternatively, the United States could try to destroy or secure Syria's suspected chemical weapon stockpiles to ensure they cannot be used in the conflict, two options that also entail major risks.
Pike said destroying the stockpiles with air or missile strikes risks dispersing poisonous gasses and harming the population. "I don't think the Obama administration has much appetite for that," said Pike.
"But securing the stockpiles probably would require thousands of troops and lead to Americans getting killed," he said.

Michael Lipin

Michael covers international news for VOA on the web, radio and TV, specializing in the Middle East and East Asia Pacific. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_Lipin

Jeff Seldin

Jeff works out of VOA’s Washington headquarters and is national security correspondent. You can follow Jeff on Twitter at @jseldin or on Google Plus.

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Comment Sorting
August 28, 2013 8:11 AM
Dear, US or CIA is it not enough what you have done to the rest of African and Asian countries like Somalia, Oromia, DRC, Iraq, and so on. But what is your main target/benefit you get from prosecuting third world countries , should leave us alone . However, it's obvious that you want maintain the superiority of your era. If you are a real democratic and fair enough apart of your selfishness you should support Oromo people who fled their home and scattered all around the world.

by: Jay from: US
August 27, 2013 11:57 AM
It's Morón Air Base. Not Moron Air Base. That's just asking for it.

by: MARVINPURSER from: Hollywood, Florida
August 27, 2013 11:34 AM
When Saddam Husein knew the U.N. was about to send a team to investigate, a pitcure appeared showing a caravan of vehicles on the way to Syria with chemicals suspected on board. Now Syria has them and are using them. So, it makes sense that Iraq, whom we saved, now does not want to support any military visits to Syria to find them!

by: Michael from: USA
August 27, 2013 9:42 AM
A large bird with claws kills mice for food. Unlike the military that kills men for justice. Military leaders mention Justice but we doubt that but a few think about it

August 27, 2013 9:14 AM
Please, Mr President Barack Obama, and Generals of US Pentagon, no, to another Somalia in Syria for American military troops, a killing trap where it may requires permanence in a chaotical Middle east territory, where al-qaida operate in tight cooperation with rebels on their syrian grounds, it would to be a blooding trap for US soldiers. Mr President Obama still you can block terrestrial operations in Syria where are russian , al-qaida and iranian support to the rebels, please for God love, save the American lives, of that eventual fire and blooded hell. Yor friend, William

by: John from: Detroit
August 27, 2013 8:13 AM
How do we know this was the govt? It could be terrorists who seized some chemical weapons during the conflict. There is no need for the U.S. to get involved, let the U.N. handle it and screw it up on their own. America is always the bad guy, sit this one out and let them figure it out on their own. Let the world see what China and Russia want to play out for a change...

by: Igor from: Russia
August 26, 2013 11:50 PM
Syria is completely surrounded by huge military presence of the USA and its allies. But Mr.Obama must not make the same mistake as Mr. Bush did because beside Syria are Iran, Russia, China...They will not let do what you would like to do. Syria does not use chemical weapon against its own population but surely it will you that weapon against any forein invaders. Would Mr. Obama like to see a much bigger disaster?

by: Anonymous
August 26, 2013 11:19 PM
It is not "the Gulf", it is called the Persian Culf.
In Response

by: Anonymous
August 27, 2013 10:35 AM
To be honest I don't think most people (other than Persians and Gulf Arabs) care if an article calls this body of water "the gulf" or "the Persian gulf" or the "Arabian gulf". Geographic names are for identifying places and don't mean ownership or any sort of association of a place to history. You could call it the "Persian gulf" and the Arabs could call it the "Arabian Gulf". Internationally the recognized name is the "Persian Gulf" but because of the enmity the current Iranian regime has created with nearly all the Western countries guess what people/news organizations in the West would tend to call it ...

by: Peter from: Vancouver
August 26, 2013 9:46 PM
"U.S. military planners have a range of air, naval and ground assets that could be used against Syria..."

(You think? It would be news if a 40% share of the world's military spending didn't provide the hardware.)

But is this " response to a suspected chemical attack that Washington blames on the government of President Bashar al-Assad."?

If chemical attacks are the actual problem, maybe this is not the week for release of the archives showing U.S. complicity in the 1988 gas attacks by Iraq... And perhaps poor timing today for the Department of Justice to be argueing that anyone in the U.S. government who was involved in such practices is completely immune from prosecution.

Beyond that: will there be an exit strategy, and will it be applied before the toxic effects of all that weaponry damages the citizens of Syria more than confirmed -- or even suspected -- Syrian chemical attacks.

by: Richard Cheeseman from: Aotearoa
August 26, 2013 8:57 PM
So the Nobel Peace Prize winner is going to murder some bystanders in Syria to "protect" civilians: a premeditated crime against humanity whose official justification is an absurdity so grotesque it must be hard even for the US regime's own propaganda channel VOA to report it with a straight face.

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