Military strikes on Syria ‘as early as Thursday,’ US officials say
The United States could hit Syria with three days of missile strikes, perhaps beginning Thursday,
in an attack meant more to send a message to the Syrian regime than to topple Bashar al-Assad or cripple his military, senior U.S. officials told NBC News.
The disclosure fed the growing drumbeat around the world for military action against Syria, believed to have used chemical weapons in recent days against scores of civilians and rebels who have been fighting the government for two years.
In three days of strikes, senior officials said, the Pentagon could assess the effectiveness of the first wave and target what was missed in further rounds.
The White House said Tuesday that it is not considering the deliberate overthrow of Assad as an option as it weighs its response.
American missile strikes would almost certainly be launched from Navy destroyers or submarines in the Mediterranean Sea. The United States has moved destroyers closer to Syria, which sits on the sea’s eastern edge, in recent days, but that was mostly a symbolic move. U.S. Tomahawk missiles are so precise they can hit not just buildings but specific windows, and could hit Syrian targets from far further west in the Mediterranean.
According to Navy officials, there are currently four destroyers lined up ready to strike: The USS Barry, the USS Mahan, the USS Ramage, and the USS Gravely.
On Tuesday, a fifth guided missile destroyer, the USS Stout, also entered the Mediterranean, through the Straights of Gibraltar, but officials said it will not take part in any cruise missile attack against Syria.
“The four destroyers now in place have more than enough cruise missiles” to carry out any potential mission, according to one official.
Kerry appeared to signal imminent military intervention when he appeared before reporters Monday at the State Department. He spoke of being personally disturbed by images of bodies contorting in spasm, and entire Syrian families killed without a drop of blood.
A French diplomatic source told Reuters that Syria’s use of chemical weapons had been going on for several months and was now taking place on a massive scale.
“France will not shirk its responsibilities,” the source said.
Some U.S. allies, notably Britain, have signaled that a limited strike on Syria could take place without U.N. Security Council approval. But Russia and China both made clear Tuesday that they would be deeply displeased with such a move.
The Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, said it would be a “very grave violation of international law,” and China said through its government-run news service that the U.S. must refrain from “hasty armed intervention.”
The news service issued a commentary Tuesday reminding readers that the United States invaded Iraq in 2003 on the grounds that it possessed banned weapons that were never found.
Meanwhile, demonstrating the vast global reach of the Syrian crisis, a Japanese newspaper reported Tuesday that North Korea had tried to send gas masks to Syria before they were seized in Turkey.