The U.S. has devoted only a few hundred operatives, between intelligence officers and soldiers, to the Syrian mission, with CIA and Pentagon resources already stretched by the counterterrorism missions in Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, as well as the continuing missions in Afghanistan and Pakistan, officials said.
The quest for added intelligence to bolster the White House’s case for a strike against Assad’s military infrastructure was the issue that delayed the release of the U.S. intelligence community’s report, which had been expected Tuesday.
The uncertainty calls into question the statements by Kerry and Vice President Joe Biden.
“We know that the Syrian regime maintains custody of these chemical weapons,” Kerry said. “We know that the Syrian regime has the capacity to do this with rockets. We know that the regime has been determined to clear the opposition from those very places where the attacks took place.”
On Wednesday, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said it didn’t really matter whether the administration knew those details with total certainty.
“We ultimately, of course, hold President Assad responsible for the use of chemical weapons by his regime against his own people, regardless of where the command and control lies,” Harf said.
The CIA, the Pentagon and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence declined to comment, and the White House did not respond to requests for comment.
Still, many U.S. lawmakers believe there is reasonable certainty Assad’s government was responsible and are pressing the White House to go ahead with an armed response.
“Based on available intelligence, there can be no doubt the Assad regime is responsible for using chemical weapons on the Syrian people,” said Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, the ranking Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee. “Short of putting troops on the ground, I believe a meaningful military response is appropriate.”
Others, both Democrats and Republicans, have expressed serious concern with the expected military strike.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said Wednesday that all the evidence points in one direction.
“There is no evidence that any opposition group in Syria has the capability let alone the desire to launch such a large-scale chemical attack,” Hague told British broadcaster Sky News.
Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron has recalled Parliament to debate the issue today.