WASHINGTON -- A U.S. attack on Syria is likely to begin at night with fiery explosions at military installations, artillery batteries and headquarters near the capital, Damascus, and other government strongholds around the country, according to current and former U.S. officials.
The strikes, involving dozens of cruise missiles launched from U.S. warships, attack submarines and possibly warplanes, would probably last up to three days. The Obama administration is seeking to punish President Bashar Assad's government for its alleged use of chemical weapons while avoiding a messy intervention in the country's civil war.
U.S. planners expect Syria to activate its sizable air defense system once the attack commences, firing antiaircraft guns and surface-to-air missiles into the night sky in an effort to shoot down the low-flying Tomahawk missiles whizzing over buildings and mountains at more than 500 mph. Most of the weapons are likely to get through, though, because the U.S. will be jamming Syrian radars, analysts say.
With diplomatic efforts still under way, President Barack Obama said Wednesday that the United States had concluded the Syrian government was responsible for a chemical weapons attack last week in Damascus suburbs. He insisted he has not decided whether to authorize an attack, but a strike on Syria appears likely.
The United States has a clear interest in responding to use of chemical weapons to deter further use and to keep them from terrorists, he said.
Syria is a "volatile country in a very volatile region," Obama said on PBS' "NewsHour." He noted its proximity to Israel, Jordan and Turkey, all key allies, as well as U.S. bases throughout the region.
"Then there is a possibility in which chemical weapons ... could be directed at us," Obama said. "We want to make sure that that does not happen."