US President Barack Obama and his top foreign policy advisers are expected to meet today to consider their military and other options in Syria, as Syrian and Russian aircraft continue to pummel Aleppo and other targets, US officials said.
Some top officials argue the United States must act more forcefully in Syria or risk losing what influence it still has over moderate rebels and its Arab, Kurdish and Turkish allies in the fight against Daesh, the officials told Reuters.
One set of options includes direct US military action such as airstrikes on Syrian military bases, munitions depots or radar and anti-aircraft bases, said one official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.
This official said one danger of such action is that Russian and Syrian forces are often co-mingled, raising the possibility of a direct confrontation with Russia that Obama has been at pains to avoid.
US officials said they consider it unlikely that Obama will order US airstrikes on Syrian government targets, and they stressed that he may not make any decisions at today’s National Security Council meeting.
One alternative, US officials said, is allowing allies to provide US-vetted rebels with more sophisticated weapons, although not shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles, which Washington fears could be used against Western airliners.
Today’s planned meeting is the latest in a long series of internal debates about what, if anything, to do to end a civil war that is now in reaching its sixth year, has killed 400,000 people according to the UN and displaced half the country’s population.
The ultimate aim of any new action could be to bolster the battered moderate rebels so they can weather what is now widely seen as the inevitable fall of rebel-held eastern Aleppo to the forces of Russian and Iranian-backed Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad.
It also might temper a sense of betrayal among moderate rebels who feel Obama encouraged their uprising by calling for Assad to go but then abandoned them, failing even to enforce his own “red line” against Assad’s use of chemical weapons.
US policy is instead focused on targeting Daesh and Jabhat Fateh Al-Sham (JFS), formerly the Al-Nusra Front, a decision that has opened it to charges that it is doing nothing to prevent the humanitarian catastrophe in Syria and particularly in Aleppo, Syria’s largest city.
Anthony Cordesman of Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank told Reuters that the United States’ failure to act earlier in Syria, and in Aleppo in particular, had narrowed Obama’s options.
“There is only so long you can ignore your options before you don’t have any,” Cordesman said.