AP SOURCES: US SURVEILLANCE PLANES FLY OVER SYRIA

Washington Times on August 26, 2014, published an AP report on the U.S. having 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. Excerpts below:

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 on August 25 that Obama had approved the flights, while another U.S. official said early August 26 that they had begun. The officials were not authorized to discuss the matter by name, and spoke only on condition of anonymity.

The U.S. began launching strikes against the Islamic State inside Iraq earlier this month, with Obama citing the threat to American personnel in the country and a humanitarian crisis in the north as his rationale. Top Pentagon officials have said the only way the threat from the militants can be fully eliminated is to go after the group inside neighboring Syria as well.

…the president’s calculus appears to have shifted since the Islamic State announced last week that it had murdered American journalist James Foley, who was held hostage in Syria. The group is also threatening to kill other U.S. citizens being held by the extremists in Syria.

The White House would not comment on Obama’s decision to authorize surveillance flights over Syria.

“We’re not going to comment on intelligence or operational issues, but as we’ve been saying, we’ll use all the tools at our disposal,” said Caitlin Hayden, spokeswoman for the White House National Security Council.

The U.S. had already stepped up its air surveillance of the Islamic State inside Iraq earlier this year as Obama began considering the prospect of airstrikes there. And the administration has run some surveillance missions over Syria, including ahead of an attempted mission to rescue Foley and other U.S. hostages earlier this summer.

Administration officials have said a concern for Obama in seeking to take out the Islamic State inside Syria is the prospect that such a move could unintentionally help embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad. A top Syrian official said on August 25 any U.S. airstrikes without consent from Syria would be considered an aggression.

The Islamic State is among the groups seeking Assad’s ouster, along with rebel forces aided by the U.S.

Associated Press writer Lolita C. Baldor in Kabul, Afghanistan, contributed to this report.

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