By CNN's Barbara Starr and Jennifer Rizzo
The U.S. military could execute a strike against Syria very quickly, if it's ordered to, according to Pentagon sources.
President Barack Obama is still debating a limited strike after Syrian regime forces allegedly unleashed a brutal chemical attack against civilians and rebel forces earlier this month, killing at least 1,429 people, according to Secretary of State John Kerry.
Before any missiles start flying, the president would issue an "execute" order for operations to begin.
Aaron David Miller, vice president and distinguished scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, says Obama apparently has chosen the middle option on Syria (between doing nothing and the McCain option of pushing for regime change). The result is one of the most widely telegraphed military assaults ever by Washington and a situation in which the president seems to be in a corner, forced to take action or risk being considered ineffective. It’s the least bad option, Miller says.FULL STORY
By Barbara Starr and Elise Labott
CNN has learned new details about what is contained in the U.S. intelligence assessment that alleges the Syrian regime was behind a deadly chemical weapons attack outside Damascus, Syria, last week.
According to senior U.S. officials, the assessment contains evidence showing senior regime officials making preparations for a massive chemical attack in the area where the incident occurred - the evidence is part of a "body of intelligence beforehand" that links the regime to the attack, as one of the officials described it.
It also includes evidence of senior regime officials discussing the attack afterward, acknowledging a realization the event was already getting massive attention and discussing that it would be wise to lay low for a while and refrain from launching such massive chemical attacks in the near future, the officials said.
In addition, the intelligence shows there was increased intensive shelling in the area after the attack, the officials said.
By Barbara Starr
CNN Pentagon Correspondent
CNN has learned the United States has intercepts of conversations among top Syrian military officials discussing the chemical weapons attack after it took place last week, according to a U.S. official.
The intercepts form a key basis for the conclusion that the Syrian regime was behind the attack. But another crucial piece of evidence about what type of chemicals may have been used remains to be determined. Tissue samples and other medical and forensic evidence taken from victims has not yet been fully analyzed, the official said. One source familiar with the latest intelligence said getting that information would provide the strongest case for the use of chemical weapons.
CNN has previously reported Israeli military intelligence provided the United States with intercepts between Syrian military commanders discussing the movement of chemical weapons to the area of the attack before it happened, according to a diplomatic source.
The administration has said it would release a declassified version of its intelligence assessment about last week's attack outside Damascus. White House spokesman Josh Ernest said Thursday the declassified version is not yet complete but should be released by the end of the week.
By Elise Labott
As President Barack Obama insisted he has made no decision on how to respond to Syria, behind the scenes American officials insisted Wednesday that ultimately the president will decide on his own timeline, dismissing the notion that maneuvers in the United Nations and British Parliament suggest a longer-term horizon before any cohesive response.
“We can’t wait, we need to act according to our own national interests,” said one senior U.S. official. While the official noted the president has not made any decisions yet, “this is moving quickly.”
The British Parliament is set Thursday to consider a resolution that calls for no military action before the United Nations Security Council considers a report from weapons inspectors who are still in Syria and who are expected to be there for several more days.
“Why do we need to wait for a UN report to tell us what we already know,” said a second senior U.S. official. Any decision to respond would not wait for UN inspectors, he said, noting the United States has told the UN it is not safe to be there. But “if they are there, it is not going to stop us.” Targets would not be in areas where inspectors are located.
By Elise Labott
The United States is working to build international support for military action against Syria, essentially bypassing the United Nations, U.S. officials and diplomatic sources said Wednesday.
As it mulls a possible strike against the Syrian regime in response to last week’s alleged chemical weapons attack by government forces, the sources predicted Russian opposition at the U.N. Security Council would force the United States and a coalition of states to act alone.
A draft Security Council resolution condemning Syria's alleged poison gas use, which killed hundreds of civilians, has stalled due to "intransigence," State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said Wednesday.
The permanent five members of the Security Council who each have veto power – the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China – met earlier in the day without reaching consensus.
By Larry Shaughnessy
As official Washington, as well as its allies and the United Nations, debates the merits of an attack on Syria, one conclusion could easily be drawn: Little good and a whole lot of bad can come from such an attack.
A week ago, a chemical weapons attack killed nearly 1,300 people, including women and children, according to rebel leaders.
Since then, there have been calls for President Barack Obama to make good on his word that Syria's use of chemical weapons would cross a “red line” and require a direct response.
Obama is still weighing what to do.
White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters on Tuesday that, “The options that we are considering are not about regime change. They are about responding to a clear violation of an international standard that prohibits the use of chemical weapons."
By Tom Cohen
Haven't we heard this before?
With President Barack Obama examining how - not whether - the United States will respond to what it calls a major chemical weapons attack in Syria, some are warning of another potential open-ended war if America launches an expected military strike.
Obama's options appear to range from limited missile strikes in Syria to continued diplomatic efforts - what critics contend is a "do-nothing" approach.
While noted hawks such as GOP Sen. John McCain of Arizona call for a robust response intended to weaken Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and turn the tide of the nation's civil war, others worry that the inevitable result will be an inextricable mess.FULL STORY
By Jill Dougherty
The United States is hopeful that a visit to Pyongyang aimed at securing the release of imprisoned American Kenneth Bae will be "straightforward," but a U.S. official speaking on background because of the diplomatic sensitivity of the issue tells CNN there are "no guarantees."
Ambassador Robert King, who's President Obama's special envoy for North Korean human rights issues, will join a small delegation flying to Pyongyang on a U.S. military jet Friday. They are expected to spend 24 hours on the ground, meeting with North Korean officials.
"The sole purpose of the trip is to secure Bae's release," the official says. "Our expectation is that now is the time to move forward and resolve this, to release this American."
By Peter Bergen
What is widely recognized as the most authoritative study of the United States' responses to mass killings around the world - from the massacres of Armenians by the Turks a century ago, to the Holocaust, to the more recent Serbian atrocities against Bosnian Muslims and the ethnic cleansing of the Tutsis in Rwanda - concluded that they all shared unfortunate commonalities:
"Despite graphic media coverage, American policymakers, journalists and citizens are extremely slow to muster the imagination needed to reckon with evil. Ahead of the killings, they assume rational actors will not inflict seemingly gratuitous violence. They trust in good-faith negotiations and traditional diplomacy. Once the killings start, they assume that civilians who keep their head down will be left alone. They urge cease-fires and donate humanitarian aid."
This is an almost perfect description of how the United States has acted over the past two years as it has tried to come up with some kind of policy to end the Assad regime's brutal war on its own people in Syria.FULL STORY