Obama still considering military action as gas attack death toll put at 1,429
Action would be a ‘limited, narrow act’ to deter use of chemical weapons
President Barack Obama speaks to reporters about possible US action against Syria during a meeting with the leaders of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania at the White House in Washington yesterday. Photograph: Christopher Gregory/The New York Times
US president Barack Obama is still weighing whether to take military action against Syria as his administration released an intelligence report that assessed with “high confidence” that the Assad regime launched the gas attack last week that killed 1,429 people including at least 426 children.
In the face of mounting concerns among US lawmakers and an ambivalent American public weary of a decade of war, the Obama administration made assurances that any military intervention in Syria would be limited, short term and would not involve any US troops being deployed to the country.
Range of options
Mr Obama said he still had not made any final decision on whether the US would take military action against the regime of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad over last week’s chemical weapons attack and that he and his military advisers had looked at “a wide range of options”.
The US was considering a “limited, narrow act” to deter Syria and others from using chemical weapons, he said, but Mr Obama stressed that military action alone would not end Syria’s bloody civil war.
Referring to last week’s attack, Mr Obama said: “This kind of offence is a challenge to the world.”
He spoke shortly after the US secretary of state John Kerry made a forceful case for action against Syria during a 20-minute speech at the White House, signalling a strong likelihood that the US will intervene to punish Mr Assad for the use of chemical weapons.
Directing his comments primarily to reassure Americans, Mr Kerry said there was “clear” and “compelling” evidence that Assad’s forces had used poison gas against its own people.
As the White House released a four-page US intelligence report that drew on a range of source material but withheld certain classified information, Mr Kerry said that the US would not repeat the mistakes made in Iraq when false evidence was used to justify going to war in 2003.
“Thug and murderer”
Describing Mr Assad as “a thug and a murderer,” Mr Kerry said the report showed that the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons personnel were on the ground in the area of last week’s attack three days in advance and that “elements” of the regime were told to prepare for the attack by putting on gas masks.
The intelligence included intercepted communications involving a “senior official intimately familiar with the offensive who confirmed that chemical weapons were used by the regime on August 21st.”
Mr Kerry said that the time for asking questions about what happened in Syria had passed. “The question is whether we, we collectively, what are we and the world going to do about it?” he said.
As an NBC poll showed that half the American people are opposed to military action in Syria, Mr Kerry acknowledged that the US people was fed up of war but that should not be an excuse for inaction.
“Fatigue does not absolve us of our responsibility,” he said.
UN chemical experts completed collecting samples from the scene of the attack as the BBC reported that a school was hit by an incendiary bomb near Aleppo in the north of the country leaving scores of children with burns that appeared to have been caused by a napalm-like substance.
Following the UK’s surprise rejection of military action in Syria, Mr Kerry said the US was prepared to act on its own, while France said that it was also willing to take action in Syria without Britain. French president Francois Hollande said the attack “cannot and must not go unpunished”.
British prime minster David Cameron said he believed his government should not “wash its hands” of Syria, despite his failure to win parliamentary support for military action on Thursday evening.
“All of the focus of the prime minister and the government in the coming days needs to be working with our allies to find other ways to press President Assad; to take action with our allies to put the diplomatic, political and other pressure that needs to be put on the government there,” he said.