The US on Thursday said it was stepping up direct military assistance to Syrian rebels as it was convinced the Assad regime had used chemical weapons against its people.
But it was not going to send American soldiers to fight in Syria. Or enforce a no-fly zone, for now. It remains an option though, according to some reports from the region.
“Our intelligence community assesses that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons, including the nerve agent sarin, on a small scale against the opposition multiple times in the last year,” said deputy national security adviser Benjamin J Rhodes.
Between 100 and 150 people died in those attacks, he added.
The use of chemical weapons was a “red line” drawn by President Barack Obama for the Assad regime, which, if crossed, would invite precipitate response.
“Obama has said that the use of chemical weapons would change his calculus,” said Rhodes in a statement, adding, “and it has.” Stepped military response was the response.
But the administration appeared keen to be not seen rushing it. The Iraq intervention in 2003 remains a reminder of the Bush era over-reach Obama is determined to avoid.
It appeared keen to carry the international community. Russia, which has been a supporter of the Assad regime, was among the countries briefed on US determination of chemical weapon use.
Other UN security council members such as France and UK are on board already. Obama will be discussing Syria with G-8 leaders when he meets them next week.
India is opposed to outside intervention and had pushed for a political solution.
The toll Obama has been seen dithering by critics both on the right and the left. Former president Bill Clinton joined them recently using the word “wuss”, a wimp.
But critics such as Republican senator John McCain, who visited the Syrian frontline recently, welcomed White House announcement of stepped up military aid.
Citing sources he said the US will be arming rebels, who use mostly Ak-47s, a weak answer to the Syrian government forces’s tanks and air power.
“They need anti-tank weapons and anti-air weapons,” said McCain.
The White House refused to detail — “inventory” — its military assistance admitting on record only to communications equipment, which clearly won’t be just it.