US Navy reinforcing its presence in the Mediterranean
WASHINGTON: US President Barack Obama considered options yesterday for a possible military strike on Syria in response to an alleged nerve gas attack that killed about 1,300 people as Syria sought to avert blame by saying its soldiers had found chemical weapons in rebel tunnels.
Senior UN official Angela Kane arrived in Damascus to seek access for inspectors to the site of last Wednesday’s attack.
The accounts and video footage of the victims — men, women and children — have heightened Western calls for a robust, US-led response after two-and-a-half years of international inaction on a conflict that has killed 100,000 people.
US military and national security advisers met Obama at the White House to consider options for a response, the day after Washington said it was realigning forces in the Mediterranean to give him the option of attacking Syria.
In a development that could raise pressure on him to act, US and European security sources said US and allied intelligence agencies had made a preliminary assessment that chemical weapons had been used by pro-Assad forces.
Among military options are missile strikes on Syrian units believed to be responsible for chemical attacks or on Assad’s air force and ballistic missile sites, officials said. Such strikes could be launched from US ships or combat aircraft capable of firing missiles from outside Syrian airspace, avoiding Syrian air defences.
Major powers, including Russia, Assad’s main ally which has long blocked UN-sponsored intervention against him, have urged the Syrian leader to cooperate with UN inspectors. Syria accuses rebels of staging the attack to provoke intervention. State TV said soldiers had found chemical weapons in tunnels that had been used by rebels.
A defence official said the US Navy would expand its presence in the Mediterranean to four destroyers from three. And Secretary of Defence Chuck Hagel, en route to Asia, said Obama had asked the Pentagon for options. “The Defence Department has responsibility to provide the president with options for all contingencies,” Hagel said. “And that requires positioning our forces, positioning our assets, to be able to carry out different options — whatever options the president might choose.” He did not elaborate.