The U.K. military presented Prime Minister David Cameron with an option for a short yet intensive air strike on Syria using Trafalgar-class submarines and Tornado aircraft, according to a person familiar with the planning.
Cameron, who headed a two-hour meeting of his National Security Council in London today, is working alongside President Barack Obama’s administration and other allies including France to reach agreement on possible limited military action against Syria. They’ve concluded that President Bashar al-Assad’s forces used chemical weapons against civilians near Damascus last week in attacks that Syrian opposition groups say killed more than 1,000 people.
The U.S. is planning to use Tomahawk cruise missiles against hundreds of Syrian targets, including some of Assad’s elite military units, if a strike is launched. The U.K., which does not have destroyers carrying Tomahawks as the U.S. does, would use submarines to launch the cruise missiles and also employ its Tornado attack aircraft to fire Storm Shadow missiles, said the person, who asked not to be identified because the discussions are private.
“Ministers agreed that the Assad regime was responsible for this attack and that the world shouldn’t stand idly by, and that any response should be legal, proportionate and specifically to protect civilians by deterring further chemical weapons use,” Cameron’s office said in an e-mailed statement after the NSC meeting. Britain has put forward a draft resolution to the United Nations Security Council seeking approval for “all necessary measures” under the UN Charter.
The planning for possible strikes on Syria is not limited to a single-day operation, according to an Obama administration official speaking on condition of anonymity. The U.S. and its allies are still working to define the goals for the military strike, the official said.
Britain’s chief of defence staff, Nick Houghton, returned yesterday from a two-day visit to Jordan where he attended the third in a series of meetings of his international counterparts to discuss the situation in Syria, the person familiar with the British planning said.
The U.K.’s military assets in the eastern Mediterranean include a Royal Air Force base at Akrotiri in Cyprus. The U.K. is unlikely to use Cyprus as a base for airstrikes because it’s too close to Syria and within range of any retaliatory strikes by Assad’s forces, the person said.
In recent conflicts, the U.K. has used the Gioia del Colle airbase in Italy, from which RAF planes flew during the 2011 Libyan conflict.
There’s no plan to make use of four U.K. warships, including HMS Bulwark, an assault ship, and HMS Illustrious, a helicopter carrier, that are taking part in Operation Cougar, a long-planned training exercise in the region. Hundreds of marines are currently in Albania for the mission. The force’s capabilities are limited to ground invasion, which would not form part of any initial strike on Syria.
The Sun newspaper has reported that one of the U.K.’s Trafalgar class of submarines has been seen off Gibraltar, at the western entrance to the Mediterranean.