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Inside Story

Ready for war?

As Obama argues for a strike on Syria, we discuss how generals on both sides are preparing for the potential fight.

Last Modified: 07 Sep 2013 12:13
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The debate over whether the US should launch an air attack on Syria has yet to be settled.

The G20 meeting in Russia ended with no clear international consensus, and now the US Senate must decide whether or not to pass a resolution allowing President Barack Obama to authorise air strikes on Syria.

It [the US strategy] seems to be coherent for the first aspect, which is the policy of the United States to punish, to degrade and to deter. What is not coherent is what happens after that. What's the rest of the plan?

Mark Kimmitt, a former US assistant secretary for political military affairs

If and when that order comes, armies on both sides will be ready. Reports from Syria indicate the military is moving away from major installations which would likely be the primary targets for American bombs. Army battalions have broken up, scattered, and are now reportedly stationed inside civilian areas.

The main message from the government has been to deny it ever used chemical weapons on civilians, but it has also said it is ready for war.

On the US side, the Pentagon is working on a list of potential targets in Syria. Until now, the official goal of the strikes would be to "deter and degrade" President Bashar al-Assad's ability to use chemical weapons.

While the actual chemicals themselves could not be targeted as that could lead to civilian casualties, officials say the equipment used to transport and deploy such weapons would be. But the resolution allows Obama to attack more than Assad’s chemical capabilities and the Pentagon has been ordered to expand a list of targets designed by the French.

Syria’s air force has been a dominant force in the war so far as rebel fighters have few resources to bring down the planes. Taking out the country’s airbases would remove one of the regime’s biggest advantages. This is certainly one of the ways NATO was able to chip away at Muammar Gaddafi’s forces in the air campaign on Libya in 2011.

Already, the US 6th fleet is waiting for orders in the eastern Mediterranean, with at least four destroyers there armed with Tomahawk cruise missiles. There is also talk of US and French air force jets being used, however that would likely come later. So far, France is the only country that has said it will fight alongside the US in a strike against Syria.

What we have seen ... is years of civilians being targeted, civilians being affected, all parties involved in the conflict caught up in the apparent abuse of civilians or not respecting their rights. Clearly it's a very alarming situation inside Syria...

Peter Kessler, the senior regional spokesman for the UNHCR

Syria has its backers as well. Iran, one of Assad’s strongest allies, is warning the US it will stand by the Assad regime. On Thursday, Iran's most powerful authority, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, questioned the US president’s intentions and issued a warning about the consequences.

He said: "Nobody around the world would believe the US is seeking to defend humanity. They are talking too much and use rhetoric to justify their move. Of course we believe they are wrong. They're making a mistake. They will feel a blow regarding this situation. They'll definitely suffer damage. There's no doubt about it."

It is possible that Iran could activate fighters from Hezbollah, as well as other armed groups around the region, to attack US interests and allies, most notably Israel.

It is that kind of escalation and spiralling insecurity that has bolstered the argument of those against a strike against Syria.

For those pushing for a negotiated settlement now rather than after an air campaign, it seems unlikely US strikes will save more lives than they will take.

But can the US minimise civilian casualties and will the Syrian government attempt to do the same? What shape will the air campaign take? And how will Syria and its allies respond?

To discuss this, Inside Story, with presenter Jane Dutton, is joined by guests: Hisham Jaber, a retired Lebanese army general and head of the Middle East centre for studies and research; Brigadier General (Ret) Mark Kimmitt, a former US assistant secretary for political military affairs and former director for strategy at United States Central Command; and Peter Kessler, the senior regional spokesman for the UNHCR, the United Nations’ Refugee Agency.

"First we have to know if there is a military strike or not .... If the Congress would say yes, in my opinion, the first strike would be - like President Obama said - quick and limited and narrow. I do understand by this that only 30 - more or less - Tomahawk cruise missiles will be launched on very specific targets in Syria. The targets, I suppose will be the air force bases because air force in Syria has priority. If they want to maintain the balance between the government and the opposition ... the Syrian air force will be the target."

Hisham Jaber, a retired Lebanese army general

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Al Jazeera
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