WASHINGTON (AFP) - The United States is poised to send spy planes into Syria to track Islamist militants, preparing the way for possible air strikes against jihadists there, a senior US official said on Monday.
The surveillance aircraft, including unmanned drones, would seek to gain a clearer picture of the extremists from the Islamic State (IS), previously known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), who have seized territory in both Syria and Iraq, the official said on condition of anonymity.
The Wall Street Journal first reported the planned flights, which it said are due to begin "shortly."
US warplanes for more than two weeks have carried out a limited air campaign against the IS militants in Iraq, with most of the bombing raids conducted near Mosul dam in the country's north.
The grisly murder of American journalist James Foley by IS jihadists and mounting concern in the West over the threat posed by the extremists has prompted speculation that Washington may expand its air war to Syria.
President Barack Obama's deputies have left open the possibility of air strikes in Syria but there has yet to be a decision to go ahead with bombing runs in Syria, where a civil war has raged pitting President Bashar al-Assad's regime against an array of rebel groups.
US Central Command, which oversees American forces in the Middle East, has asked for additional surveillance planes to collect more intelligence on potential IS targets in Syria, the Journal reported.
The surveillance planes would provide information in addition to that already collected by US satellites and informants, the report said. US officials have said privately that Washington has no plans to seek consent from the Damascus regime for any military flights and analysts say Syria's air defence systems may not be in working order in the country's east.
Washington sent aircraft into Syria in July in an unsuccessful bid to rescue a group of Americans held by the IS militants. The hostages had already been moved when US forces arrived.