'US air strikes will not oust Al-Assad'

09 September 2013 - 02:42 By Ben Farmer
Issa, 10, carries a mortar shell in a weapons factory run by the Free Syrian Army, in Aleppo. Issa works with his father in the factory for 10 hours every day except Fridays
Issa, 10, carries a mortar shell in a weapons factory run by the Free Syrian Army, in Aleppo. Issa works with his father in the factory for 10 hours every day except Fridays

US air strikes against the Syrian government would not help rebels topple Bashar al-Assad because opposition fighters are too fragmented and disorganised, an intelligence analysis has warned.

The two-year-old uprising against the Damascus regime has broken down into countless battlefields fought over by a "vast array" of different rebel groups.

The analysis by IHS Jane's, a defence consultancy, has been released as the US military planners have been told to widen the list of potential targets for a more ambitious campaign of strikes.

President Barack Obama is now considering using long-range bombers to hit Assad's forces harder and ensure that they are unable to launch more chemical weapons attacks, such as the one that killed more than 1400 people in an east Damascus suburb.

Charles Lister, author of the analysis, said: "While it is perfectly feasible that localised insurgent groupings could take advantage of strikes that target government air assets and key artillery positions, it is unlikely this will lead to a nationwide surge in opposition wins and any perceivable imminent overthrow of the government."

The US has five guided-missile destroyers and at least one submarine in the eastern Mediterranean, each loaded with cruise missiles. Planners are also considering bombing strikes by B52s or B2 stealth jets, based in the US, which would be able to jam or evade Syria's air defences.

A Washington hit list is reported to have more than 50 targets.

Top of the list are assets of the government's secretive research centre, where the regime is believed to develop its chemical and biological weapons. Missiles will also hit the units thought to have fired chemical weapons.

Stockpiles of the weapons, which include mustard and sarin gas, will be avoided because of the risk of deadly leaks into civilian areas or of jihadist rebels stealing from shattered bunkers.

Other targets include command centres of the Syrian army, defence ministry, and intelligence agencies in Damascus.

Obama might also add airfields to the list, said Jeremy Binnie, also of IHS Jane's.

Binnie said: "Some US politicians appear to want the strike to be aimed at more conclusively degrading the capabilities of the Syrian military, thereby swinging the balance of power in favour of the insurgents. In these circumstances, air bases would be a likely target."

Smashing runways at key air bases would ground Syria's fast jets and stop planes bringing in supplies from Iran. More effective would be destroying the Russian-made helicopter gunships used to attack rebels. The US is also likely to target mobile artillery, including Syria's fleet of around 50 Russian-built Scud missile launchers. Dozens were reported to have been seen on the move last week from Qalamoun, near Damascus, to unknown locations.

Rebels also want attacks on the government's elite forces, commanded by Assad's younger brother, Maher, who is accused of authorising the August 21 gas attack on the Ghouta suburb .

Michael Stephens, a research analyst at the Royal United Services Institute in Doha, said: "Assad has been moving a lot of things around recently. We have seen a lot of troop movements in central Damascus, particularly into civilian areas." - © The Sunday Telegraph