Syria’s northwestern Idlib province is the last remaining stronghold of militant and terror groups in the country. President Bashar Assad sees the liberation of Idlib as a topmost priority.
The US is mulling air and missile strikes on Syrian government forces if they use chlorine gas in their operation to liberate Idlib.
The US strikes could also target Russia and Iranian positions in the area, the Wall Street Journal wrote on Sunday.
Targeting Russian Forces?
The article added that the Pentagon may be crafting military options, but President Trump hasn’t decided yet what exactly would trigger a military response or whether the US would target Russian or Iranian military forces aiding Assad in Syria.
The WSJ added that Washington has not yet decided whether the use of chlorine gas could necessitate US airstrikes on Assad’s forces.
According to the publication, if Washington decides to strike, it would possibly be on a larger scale compared to the air and missile attacks it had previously launched in Syria.
If it does, then it would have to decide whether to hit Russian air defense installations in a bid to inflict maximum damage on Assad’s forces, the newspaper added.
“I will not comment on US military plans, but on Assad’s use of chemical weapons, sarin and chlorine and disdain for civilian life is well documented and contrary to regional stability,” the WSJ quoted the Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White as saying.
The newspaper has also learned that the US could limit its response to imposing economic sanctions against Syrian officials. The newspaper quoted a senior administration official in Washington as saying that the US has “the political tools at our disposal, we have economic instruments at our disposal, there are different ways we could respond if Assad were to take that reckless and dangerous step.”
Other sources the newspaper talked to said that the US has in recent weeks been trying to prevent a military operation in Idlib and that national security adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo allegedly asked their “Russian colleagues” to make sure chemical weapons are not used in Idlib.
The newspaper also claimed that Russia had ignored the US warning and said that the opposition forces in Syria could use chemical weapons against civilians in order to provoke a military response.
The WSJ added, however, that, according to US officials, there are no signs that Syrian rebels have the chemical weapons needed to carry out such attacks.
President Donald Trump has threatened to conduct a massive attack against Assad if he carries out a massacre in Idlib. The province in northwestern Syria is home to more than three million people and as many as 70,000 militants.
Syria, backed by Russia and Iran, is poised to deliver a crippling blow to militants in Idlib who appear to be on the verge of defeat after trying for seven years to force President Assad from power.
Situation in Idlib
Idlib province is in one of Syria’s de-escalation zones and remains an important foothold for jihadi fighters. Tensions are steadily growing over reports that terrorists may prepare a chemical provocation to provoke Washington into retaliating against Damascus.
On August 22, US National Security Adviser John Bolton signaled Washington would resort to tough measures against the Syrian government in the event chemical weapons are used.
The Trump administration has carried out two missile strikes on Syrian Arab Army positions over unconfirmed reports of alleged chemical attacks