Report: Obama Orders Pentagon to Expand List of Potential Syria Targets

Directive given in wake of intel that Assad has been moving troops, chemical weapons equipment; U.S. issues travel warning, pulls diplomatic staff from Lebanon.

U.S. President Barack Obama has instructed the Pentagon to compile an expanded list of targets that America would strike if it intervened in Syria, the New York Times reported Thursday.

The directive was given in the wake of intelligence that the regime of President Bashar Assad has been moving troops and chemical weapons equipment, the newspaper said.

Obama is determined to degrade Assad's chemical weapons capabilities, officials told the New York Times. This means increasing the original list of around 50 targets that the U.S. developed with France before the president announced Saturday that he would seek Congressional approval before proceeding with military intervention in Syria.

The U.S. is also reportedly mulling using American and French aircraft to conduct strikes, and is renewing its attempts to involve other NATO forces in intervention.

Strikes in Syria would target military units that stored and prepared chemical weapons, along with units that carried out chemical attacks against the opposition, the headquarters coordinating such operations, and rockets and artillery used to carry out attacks, military officials told the newspaper. Strikes would not target chemical stockpiles, as this could cause severe damage.

Officials warned that options for expanded intervention would still be limited, the Times reported. “Think incremental increase, not exponential,” the newspaper cited one official as saying. However, they would be aimed at causing severe damage to Assad's forces.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey has said that other targets would include equipment that Syria uses to protect its chemical weapons caches, the newspaper said.

Congress has yet to approve a strike, but on Wednesday, the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved a resolution authorizing a limited U.S. military intervention in Syria, setting the stage for a debate in the full Senate next week on the use of military force.

The committee voted 10-7 in favor of a compromise resolution that sets a 60-day limit on any engagement in Syria and bars the use of U.S. troops on the ground for combat operations. 

With the possibility of a strike looming, the U.S. State Department issued travel warnings and pulled its non-emergency staff out Lebanon and parts of Turkey on Friday.

U.S. 'highly confident' 

At the Group of 20 economic summit this week, Obama continued making the case for a strike. He told G20 leaders at a lengthy dinner Thursday that the U.S. has high confidence Syrian forces used chemical weapons and underlined the need to uphold an international ban on the use of such weapons, a senior White House adviser said on Friday.

The dinner was hosted by Russian President Vladimir Putin, the chief opponent to a U.S. push to punish Assad over an August 21 chemical weapons attack it blames on his troops.

Ben Rhodes, Obama's deputy national security adviser, told reporters that Obama "once again underscored the very high confidence that we have" that Assad's government launched a poison gas attack that killed 1,429 people.

He made a similar case in talks on Friday with Chinese President Xi Jinping. Both Putin and Xi have blocked UN Security Council action against Syria, which has frustrated U.S. efforts for international solidarity.

Obama told the G20 leaders that it was important to uphold international norms against chemical weapons usage. He noted, however, the paralysis that exists on the Security Council, Rhodes said.