Hagel: Military stands ready to strike

2013-08-27 20:49
US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel.

US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel. (Paul J Richards, AFP)

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Washington - The US military stands ready to strike Syria at once if President Barack Obama gives the order, Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel said Tuesday as the United States prepared to formally declare that chemical weapons had been used in the Syrian civil war.

US officials said the growing intelligence pointed strongly toward Bashar Assad's government as the culprit - a claim Assad called "preposterous".

The US, along with allies in Europe, appeared to be laying the groundwork for the most aggressive response since Syria's civil war began more than two years ago.

Obama has not yet decided how to respond to the use of deadly gases, officials said. The president said last year that type of warfare would cross a "red line".

Two administration officials said the US was expected to make public a more formal determination of chemical weapons use on Tuesday, with an announcement of Obama's response likely to follow quickly.

The officials insisted on anonymity because they were not authorised to publicly discuss the internal deliberations.

On Monday, as he sought support from allies, Secretary of State John Kerry called the evidence of a large-scale chemical weapons attack "undeniable".

And he said that international standards against chemical weapons "cannot be violated without consequences".

The Obama administration's tougher language marked the clearest justification yet for any US military action in Syria, which most likely would involve sea-launched cruise missile attacks on Syrian military targets.

'We are ready to go'

Hagel told BBC television on Tuesday that the Defence Department has "moved assets in place to be able to fulfill and comply with whatever option the president wishes to take".

The Navy has four destroyers in the eastern Mediterranean Sea within range of targets inside Syria. The US also has warplanes in the region.

"We are ready to go," Hagel said.

Hagel said "to me it's clearer and clearer" that the Syrian government was responsible, but that the Obama administration was waiting for intelligence agencies to make the determination.

Hagel was interviewed during a visit to the Southeast Asian nation of Brunei. While there, Hagel spoke by phone about Syria with his counterparts from Britain and France.

Hagel's press secretary, George Little, said, said Hagel "conveyed that the United States is committed to working with the international community to respond to the outrageous chemical attacks that have claimed the lives of innocent civilians in Syria".

In London, Prime Minister David Cameron recalled Parliament for an urgent discussion on a possible military response. Cameron said the crisis session will be held on Thursday for a clear government motion and vote on the British response to a chemical weapons attack in Syria.

The British government said its military is drawing up contingency plans for a possible attack. Italy, meanwhile, is insisting that any strike must be authorised by the UN Security Council.

Assad was defiant. In an interview published on Tuesday on the website of the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency, Assad accused the US and other countries of "disdain and blatant disrespect of their own public opinion; there isn't a body in the world, let alone a superpower, that makes an accusation and then goes about collecting evidence to prove its point."

Assad warned that if the US attacks Syria, it will face "what it has been confronted with in every war since Vietnam: failure".

Read more on:    chuck hagel  |  barack obama  |  syria  |  syria conflict

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