An American strike on Syria would be heavier than originally planned because President Bashar al-Assad's regime has been given time to disperse its forces, officials have briefed the US press. At first, the plans called for a relatively limited attack involving about 50 targets, it was reported.
But the delay imposed by President Barack Obama's decision to allow a vote in Congress has given the Syrian regime breathing space to spread its forces, including chemical weapons, around the country.
A businessman who recently visited Damascus said that military barracks in the capital had been evacuated and soldiers were now billeted in schools. The White House has responded by asking the Pentagon for an expanded target list. The latest plans provide for an initial strike, followed by mopping up operations to destroy any surviving targets, with the whole campaign to be finished within 72 hours.
More forces would be used than first planned. Five US destroyers, presently deployed in the eastern Mediterranean, are likely to fire Tomahawk cruise missiles. In addition, the air force could employ B2 bombers armed with stand-off weapons.
"There will be several volleys and an assessment after each volley, but all within 72 hours and a clear indication when we are done," one official familiar with the planning told the Los Angeles Times. When he decided to call a vote in Congress, Obama said the military option had no time limit and would be equally effective whenever it was launched. He will address the nation from the White House tomorrow as he tries to secure Congressional approval for military strikes.
John Kerry, the US secretary of state, said yesterday that any US campaign would be specifically targeted on "degrading" the Syrian regime's ability to use chemical weapons. -- Two RAF jets were scrambled from their base in Cyprus to investigate Syrian planes that had crossed into international airspace.
The Ministry of Defence confirmed that the unidentified planes crossed legally into Cypriot skies from eastern Syria last Monday. But it is understood that the behaviour of the aircraft raised suspicions at RAF Akrotiri, less than 200 miles from Syria, prompting the rapid response. The Syrian aircraft retreated before any action was taken.