Here’s a friendly bit of advice to some Syrians: If you happen to own a small two-axle flatbed truck — the kind you might use for hauling construction materials, produce deliveries or that kind of thing — and you don’t want to get hit by an American cruise missile, you might want keep your truck in a garage for a few weeks.
It’s now reported that the Pentagon is expanding its target list and will be attempting to destroy “equipment used to deploy chemical weapons.” Most Americans probably think that such equipment would be readily identifiable as military equipment, but if the image below is reliable — it’s a screenshot from a video believed to show a missile launcher used for chemical weapons — then the equipment in question, once covered by a tarpaulin, is probably indistinguishable from thousands of trucks being driven around every single day in Syria for perfectly innocent purposes.
On the other hand, let’s give the Pentagon the benefit of the doubt and assume that its intelligence is so strong that it knows exactly which white trucks at which it should aim. Can it be equally confident that none of them will actually be carrying chemical weapons? Can we be sure that the U.S. effort to prevent the further use of chemical weapons will not instead result in the release of more sarin?
The New York Times reports: President Obama has directed the Pentagon to develop an expanded list of potential targets in Syria in response to intelligence suggesting that the government of President Bashar al-Assad has been moving troops and equipment used to employ chemical weapons while Congress debates whether to authorize military action.
Mr. Obama, officials said, is now determined to put more emphasis on the “degrade” part of what the administration has said is the goal of a military strike against Syria — to “deter and degrade” Mr. Assad’s ability to use chemical weapons. That means expanding beyond the 50 or so major sites that were part of the original target list developed with French forces before Mr. Obama delayed action on Saturday to seek Congressional approval of his plan.
For the first time, the administration is talking about using American and French aircraft to conduct strikes on specific targets, in addition to ship-launched Tomahawk cruise missiles. There is a renewed push to get other NATO forces involved.
The strikes would be aimed not at the chemical stockpiles themselves — risking a potential catastrophe — but rather the military units that have stored and prepared the chemical weapons and carried the attacks against Syrian rebels, as well as the headquarters overseeing the effort, and the rockets and artillery that have launched the attacks, military officials said Thursday.
Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has said that other targets would include equipment that Syria uses to protect the chemicals — air defenses, long-range missiles and rockets, which can also deliver the weapons. [Continue reading…]