The planning for intense attacks over a three-day period reflects the growing belief in the White House and the Pentagon that the US needs more firepower to inflict even minimal damage on Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces, which have been widely dispersed over the last two weeks, the Los Angeles Times reported, quoting US officials as saying.

Two US officers said the White House asked for an expanded target list in recent days to include many more than the 50 or so targets on the initial list. As a result, Pentagon planners are weighing whether to use Air Force bombers, in addition to five warships now on patrol in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, to launch cruise missiles and air-to-surface missiles from hundreds of miles offshore, well out of range of Syrian air defenses.

"There will be several volleys and an assessment after each volley, but all within 72 hours and a clear indication when we are done," the paper quoted one officer familiar with the planning.

The stepped-up military planning comes as US President Barack Obama and his aides prepared to press their own offensive to seek public support, as well as congressional votes for authorization to use military force to punish Assad's government for alleged use of chemical weapons against civilians on August 21.

Obama still favours a limited attack that would not involve sending large numbers of warplanes over Syria to drop bombs, officials said. But some military officers are doubtful that even a longer air campaign, using cruise missiles fired from offshore, will hurt Assad enough to degrade his forces and to deter future use of chemical weapons.

One officer described the planned operation as little more than a multi-day "show of force," not a game-changer in Syria's bitter civil war. The planned US attack "will not strategically impact the current situation in the war, which the Syrians have well in hand, though fighting could go on for another two years," said another US officer.

The Obama administration hopes that by denying Assad the option of resorting to chemical weapons and by providing some additional weapons and training to rebel fighters, it will boost the now remote chances of negotiations that might lead to Assad's exit.


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