US military drawing up options should Syria use chemical weapons

Idlib is the insurgents’ only remaining major stronghold and a government offensive could be the last decisive battle in the war. (File/AFP)
Updated 08 September 2018

US military drawing up options should Syria use chemical weapons

  • Syrian President Bashar Assad has massed his army and allied forces on the front lines in the northwest, and Russian planes have joined his bombardment of rebels there
  • The White House warned that the US and its allies would respond “swiftly and vigorously” if government forces used chemical weapons in Idlib

NEW DELHI: America’s top general on Saturday said he was involved in “routine dialogue” with the White House about military options should Syria ignore US warnings against using chemical weapons in an expected assault on the enclave of Idlib.
Marine General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said no decision had been made by the United States to employ military force in response to a future chemical attack in Syria.
“But we are in a dialogue, a routine dialogue, with the president to make sure he knows where we are with regard to planning in the event that chemical weapons are used,” he told a small group of reporters during a trip to India.
Dunford later added: “He expects us to have military options and we have provided updates to him on the development of those military options.”
Syrian President Bashar Assad has massed his army and allied forces on the front lines in the northwest, and Russian planes have joined his bombardment of rebels there, in a prelude to a widely expected assault despite objections from Turkey.
This week, a top US envoy said there was “lots of evidence” that chemical weapons were being prepared by Syrian government forces in Idlib.
The White House has warned that the United States and its allies would respond “swiftly and vigorously” if government forces used chemical weapons in Idlib. President Donald Trump has twice bombed Syria over its alleged use of chemical weapons, in April 2017 and April 2018.
France’s top military official also said last week his forces were prepared to carry out strikes on Syrian targets if chemical weapons were used in Idlib.
Dunford declined to comment on US intelligence about the possible Syrian preparations of chemical agents.
’Disappointing’
Idlib is the insurgents’ only remaining major stronghold and a government offensive could be the last decisive battle in a war that has killed more than half a million people and forced 11 million to flee their homes.
The presidents of Turkey, Iran and Russia on Friday failed to agree on a cease-fire that would forestall an offensive.
Asked whether there was still a chance the assault on Idlib could be averted, Dunford said: “I don’t know if there’s anything that can stop it.”
“It’s certainly disappointing but perhaps not (surprising) that the Russians, the Turks and the Iranians weren’t able to come up with a solution yesterday,” he said.
Tehran and Moscow have helped Assad turn the course of the war against an array of opponents ranging from Western-backed rebels to the Islamist militants, while Turkey is a leading opposition supporter and has troops in the country.
Turkey says it fears a massacre and Turkey can not accommodate any more refugees flooding over its border.
But Russia’s Vladimir Putin said on Friday a cease-fire would be pointless as it would not involve extremist militant groups it deems terrorists.
Dunford has warned about the potential for a humanitarian catastrophe in Idlib and instead has recommended more narrowly tailored operations against militants there.
“There’s a more effective way to do counterterrorism operations than major conventional operations in Idlib,” he said.


Erdogan accuses the West of ‘standing by terrorists’ in Syria

Updated 1 min 59 sec ago

Erdogan accuses the West of ‘standing by terrorists’ in Syria

  • Ankara says the YPG is a “terrorist” offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK)
  • The PKK is blacklisted as a terror group by Ankara, the US and the EU

ISTANBUL: President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday lashed out at Western states, accusing them of “standing by terrorists” in failing to support Turkey’s operation against Syrian Kurdish fighters.
“Can you imagine the whole West stood by the terrorists and all attacked us including NATO member states and European Union countries?” Erdogan said in Istanbul.
“Since when did you start to side with terror? Did PYD-YPG (Syrian Kurdish forces) join NATO and we do not know about it?” he asked.
Ankara says the YPG is a “terrorist” offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been waging an insurgency inside Turkey since 1984.
The PKK is blacklisted as a terror group by Ankara, the US and the EU.
Ankara’s military action against Kurdish forces who played a key role in the fight against the Daesh group has drawn widespread international criticism and prompted some NATO countries to suspend new arms sales.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has repeatedly voiced “serious concerns” about the military operation launched on October 9 to push Syrian Kurdish forces back from the border.
Erdogan denied any territorial ambition saying: “Turkey does not have an eye on any country’s territory ... We consider such an accusation as the biggest insult directed to us.”
Turkey has announced a 120-hour suspension of the offensive following a deal with US Vice President Mike Pence, under which Kurdish fighters were to withdraw to allow a “safe zone” to be set up along the border.
Erdogan was to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday in the Black Sea resort of Sochi.