The US has already began surveillance flights over Syria, American officials say, as Washington contemplates airstrikes against Islamic State targets and confirms there are no plans to coordinate anti-terror attacks with the Syrian government.
In light of steady advances of the jihadist Islamic State (IS) across Syria and Iraq, the US Department of Defense is considering a number of options for president Obama to consider, including airstrikes against militant positions, similar to those the US has recently carried out against IS in Iraq.
One US official, speaking on condition of anonymity told AP that reconnaissance flights have already began in Syria, after two officials claimed Monday that Obama had covertly approved such flights. Another official earlier claimed that the administration needs reliable intelligence on the ground in Syria before any airstrikes are ordered.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey declined to comment on the surveillance flights but said more clarity is needed on IS ground positions in Syria.
“Clearly the picture we have of ISIS on the Iraqi side is a more refined picture,” Dempsey told reporters in Kabul on Tuesday. “The existence and activities of ISIS on the Syrian side, we have ... some insights into that but we certainly want to have more insights into that as we craft a way forward.”
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also reported that “non-Syrian spy planes” carried out surveillance flights on Monday.
When reports first surfaced that United States is prepared to use a variety of options, including airstrikes in Syria without Damascus' consent, if backed by regional and European partners, Syria’s Foreign Minister Walid Muallem warned Washington against such provocative military action calling it a violation of his country’s sovereignty and an open aggression.
Yet the FM expressed Syria’s readiness to cooperate with the international community to confront terrorism.
“Syria is ready to cooperate and coordinate ... at the regional and international level in the war on terror,” Muallem was quoted by Fars as saying. “But any efforts to combat terrorism should come in coordination with the Syrian government.”
But US officials said they did not plan to coordinate with Damascus on targeting IS militants in Syria “There are no plans to coordinate with the Assad regime as we consider this terror threat,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said in Washington on Tuesday.
However, sources in Damascus told AFP that the US is unofficially sharing some intelligence with Damascus through Iraq and Russia. “The cooperation has already begun and the United States is giving Damascus information via Baghdad and Moscow,” one source close to the issue said on condition of anonymity.
Earlier this month, the Syrian National Coalition urged the international community, namely the US, to carry out airstrikes against the Islamic State radicals in Syria, after the US has launched almost 100 airstrikes on IS terrorist positions in Iraq since beginning of a limited air campaign on August 8.