Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Uncertainty over How US Military Intervention in Syria Would End

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Uncertainty over How US Military Intervention in Syria Would End

Article excerpt

As President Obama prepares to make the case for a military intervention in Syria to the American people on Tuesday, senior military officials are grappling with a key question underpinning the planning of the operation: How does it end?

In other words, will it be possible to keep the intervention limited to "degrading and deterring" Syrian President Bashar al- Assad from using chemical weapons, as US officials have promised?

The crux of the operation, as it stands now, is to use cruise missiles fired from US Navy ships to target any elements of Mr. Assad's arsenal that give him the ability to use chemical weapons on his people. This includes Syrian rockets and artillery, as well as places that US intelligence determines to be military headquarters for planning and launching chemical attacks.

The plan is to have "a collateral damage estimate of low" - meaning to kill as few civilians as possible - the nation's top military officer, Gen. Martin Dempsey, told lawmakers last week.

That said, he used the opportunity to send a warning to Assad and those suspected of planning chemical weapons attacks on civilians. The US military would not show "the same constraint, if you will, in what damage could be done to regime personnel."

And how about Assad? Will he simply lay low until the US military carries out its attacks, if the Pentagon is ordered to do so by President Obama? Not likely.

"In the real world of unintended (and unwelcome) consequences, all manner of unpleasant alternative scenarios could rapidly materialize. A limited strike could just as easily provoke Assad," notes retired Lt. Gen. David Barno, a former commander of US forces in Afghanistan.

Assad told CBS News on Monday that a US strike definitely will provoke him. "Will there be attacks against American bases in the Middle East?" host Charlie Rose asked. "You should expect everything," Assad promised.

There could be chemical warfare, too. "That depends if the rebels or the terrorists in this region or any other group have it, it could happen. …

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