US military drawing up options should Syria use chemical weapons in Idlib assault

Marine General Joseph Dunford said no decision had been made by the United States to employ military force in response to a chemical attack in Syria.
Marine General Joseph Dunford said no decision had been made by the United States to employ military force in response to a chemical attack in Syria.PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW DELHI (REUTERS) - America's top general on Saturday (Sept 8) said he was involved in "routine dialogue" with President Donald Trump about military options should Syria ignore Washington's warnings against using chemical weapons in an expected assault on the enclave of Idlib.

Marine General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said no decision had been made by the United States to employ military force in response to a future chemical attack in Syria. 

“But we are in a dialogue, a routine dialogue, with the president to make sure he knows where we are with regard to planning in the event that chemical weapons are used,” he told a small group of reporters during a trip to India. 

Dunford later added: “He expects us to have military options and we have provided updates to him on the development of those military options.”

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has massed his army and allied forces on the front lines in the north-west, and Russian planes have joined his bombardment of rebels there, in a prelude to a widely expected assault despite objections from Turkey. 

This week, a top US envoy said there was “lots of evidence” that chemical weapons were being prepared by Syrian government forces in Idlib. 

The White House has warned that the United States and its allies would respond “swiftly and vigorously” if government forces used chemical weapons in Idlib.

Trump has twice bombed Syria over its alleged use of chemical weapons, in April 2017 and April 2018.  France’s top military official also said last week his forces were prepared to carry out strikes on Syrian targets if chemical weapons were used in Idlib. 

Dunford declined to comment on US intelligence about the possible Syrian preparations of chemical agents. 

Idlib is the insurgents’ only remaining major stronghold and a government offensive could be the war’s last decisive battle.  The presidents of Turkey, Iran and Russia on Friday failed to agree on a ceasefire that would forestall an offensive, perhaps the last major battle in a war that has killed more than half a million people and forced 11 million to flee their homes. 

Asked whether there was still a chance the assault on Idlib could be averted, Dunford said: “I don’t know if there’s anything that can stop it.”

“It’s certainly disappointing but perhaps not (surprising) that the Russians, the Turks and the Iranians weren’t able to come up with a solution yesterday,” he said.