AP sources: US surveillance planes fly over Syria

Published on NewsOK Modified: August 26, 2014 at 3:16 am •  Published: August 26, 2014
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KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The U.S. has begun surveillance flights over Syria after President Barack Obama gave the OK, U.S. officials said, a move that could pave the way for airstrikes against Islamic State militant targets there.

While the White House says Obama has not approved military action inside Syria, additional intelligence on the militants would likely be necessary before he could take that step. Pentagon officials have been drafting potential options for the president, including airstrikes.

One official said the administration has a need for reliable intelligence from Syria and called the surveillance flights an important avenue for obtaining data.

Two U.S. officials said Monday that Obama had approved the flights, while another U.S. official said early Tuesday that they had begun. The officials were not authorized to discuss the matter by name, and spoke only on condition of anonymity.

Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Tuesday that the U.S. wants more clarity on the militants in Syria, but declined to comment on the surveillance flights.

"Clearly the picture we have of ISIS on the Iraqi side is a more refined picture," said Dempsey, using one of the acronyms for the Islamic State group. "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 U.S. began launching strikes against the Islamic State inside Iraq earlier this month, with Obama citing the threat to American personnel in the country and a humanitarian crisis in the north as his rationale. Top Pentagon officials have said the only way the threat from the militants can be fully eliminated is to go after the group inside neighboring Syria as well.

Obama has long resisted taking military action in Syria, a step that would plunge the U.S. into a country ravaged by an intractable civil war. However, the president's calculus appears to have shifted since the Islamic State announced last week that it had murdered American journalist James Foley, who was held hostage in Syria. The group is also threatening to kill other U.S. citizens being held by the extremists in Syria.

Dempsey, who was in Kabul for the U.S. military's change of command ceremony, has said he would recommend the military move against the Islamic State militants if there is a threat to the homeland. He didn't rule out strikes for any other critical reasons, but listed the homeland threat as one key trigger.

Dempsey also said the U.S. has been meeting with allies in the region to help develop a better understanding of the Islamic State group's threat. He said he believes those talks are now beginning to "set the conditions for some kind of coalition to form."

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