Syria strikes still on the table

WASHINGTON — In an effort to bolster security for the upcoming Iraq elections, Bush administration hardliners have been considering selected military strikes at insurgent training camps in Syria and border-crossing points used by Islamist guerrillas to enter Iraq.

According to former and current administration officials contacted by UPI correspondent Richard Sale, pressure for some form of military action also is coming from interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi.

One former U.S. intelligence official told UPI, “I don’t usually find myself in sympathy with the Bush neocons, but I think there is enough fire under this smoke to justify such action.”

Gary Gambill, editor of the Middle East Intelligence Bulletin, called Syria “the No. 1 crossing point” for guerrillas entering Iraq, adding that Damascus “does nothing about it.”

Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the top U.S. commander in Iraq, recently said that senior Ba’ath Party officials are operating from Syria, where they provide financing and direction to the cells of Iraqi insurgents killing Americans, sparking new discussions within the administration about possible measures against Syria.

U.S. officials said that money, direction, weapons and personnel are flowing into Iraq from Syria, ending up in cities such as Iskanderiya, Baqouba, Latafiya and Fallujah. Damascus also is home to associates of a top insurgency commander now affiliated with al-Qaida, Jordanian Abu Musab Zarqawi, who is responsible for many major suicide bombing attacks in Iraq, U.S. officials said.

strikes still on the table

What worries U.S. intelligence analysts is the seeming weakness of Syrian Pres. Bashar Assad. According to these sources, Assad is “well aware of the U.S. Army on its border to the east, and does not want to antagonize the United States.” But he is surrounded by “the old guard,” rogue members of the ruling circle “who are making millions of dollars” by allowing former Ba’ath officials to shelter in Syria.

One former senior CIA official, usually an administration critic, said, “We should send a cruise missile into southside Damascus and blow the Mukharbarat headquarters off the map. We should first make clear to them that they are the target.”

Is this likely to happen? Former CIA Syria expert Martha Kessler doesn’t think so. “I don’t think the administration can afford to destabilize another country in the region,” she said. Syria has tried, often in vain, to cooperate with the United States, only to be either snubbed or ignored, she explained.

But a chief reason for not moving against Damascus is that any strikes would “destabilize Lebanon,” where the Lebanese Hezbollah movement awaits orders from Iran before launching retaliations against Israeli attacks.

Military policy on gays creates linguist gap

SAN FRANCISCO — The number of Arabic linguists discharged from the military for violating its “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy is nearly three times as high as previously reported, according to records obtained by the Center for the Study of Sexual Minorities in the Military.

Center Director Aaron Belkin wants the public to see the real costs of the current policy. “We had a language problem after 9/11 and we still have a language problem,” he told Northern California’s Contra Costa Times last week.

Between 1998 and 2004, the military discharged 20 Arabic and six Farsi speakers, according to Department of Defense data. The military previously had reported that only 7 translators who specialized in Arabic were discharged because they were gay. The updated numbers were first revealed in The New Republic magazine.

The “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy allows gays and lesbians to serve in the military as long as they keep their sexual orientation private and do not engage in homosexual acts. Belkin and other advocates argue that such a policy endangers national security at a time intelligence agencies and the military say they don’t have enough Arabic speakers

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