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Fly high and fast: US Surveillance over Syria

The Big Story reported from an AP article that US surveillance aircraft flew over Syria. According to the report, the Syrian government could permit the US to not only surveil but to strike Islamic State targets in Syria. Syria’s Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem underscored that Syria is an active participant in the war against terrorists. Now, foreign policy gets very interesting.

Drones over Syria
Getty Images

The focus of surveillance over Syria is to gather intelligence about ISIS.

  • The Syrian government is in a battle against rebels that include Sunnis including moderates and radicals, al Qaeda, and Islamic State terrorists.
  • Russia is aligned with Bashar al-Assad in his government’s fight against all rebels.
  • The US is partly aligned with rebels, particularly the moderates, but it was too difficult to segregate them.

Now, the Islamic State has become such a significant menace that the US may assist the Syrian government by attacking ISIS with permission? Yesterday’s analysis suggested that there may be a diplomatic opportunity here to work with Assad to help him restore order if he agrees to an exit path. That may be jumping the gun, but diplomats should be aware of the potential opportunity.

The question is, who are the moderate leaders, and how can they be strengthened and defended against both ISIS and the Syrian government? One thing at a time. First, reduce the fighting force of ISIS in Syria. Follow the trail to Iraq and eliminate them there. Simultaneously, bolster rebel forces while engaging Assad diplomatically.


— Aug. 26, 2014 4:16 AM EDT

White House press secretary Josh Earnest gestures during the daily press briefing at the White House in Washington, Monday, Aug. 25, 2014, where he took questions on ISIS, Iraq, and Syria. He also received congratulations for his newborn baby. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

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."”

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