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As Pentagon Adds Bombing Options, Kerry Warns Assad

"We are not asking America to go to war," Secretary of State John Kerry told the House Foreign Affairs Committee early Wednesday afternoon, as he and other top administration officials continued to push Congress to support President Obama's call for military strikes aimed at the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

In remarks repeating much of what he told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday, Kerry said that any strikes on Syria in response to Assad's alleged use of chemical weapons will be targeted and won't include putting any U.S. soldiers in harm's way. It's most likely the U.S. would fire missiles at targets inside Syria from ships in the Mediterranean Sea.

Kerry also pledged that the U.S. won't be drawn into a war. Should Assad be "arrogant and foolish enough to retaliate," Kerry said, the U.S. has "ample ways to make him regret that decision without going to war."

On that point, NPR's Tom Bowman tells us that:

"As we reported Wednesday on Morning Edition, the Pentagon is drawing up plans to begin training Syrian rebels in Jordan, an effort now being handled by the CIA. As one Pentagon source put it, the CIA effort has been offering 'boutique' training. Soon, there could be 'industrial' training under Pentagon guidance.

"The U.S. Central Command in Tampa, which has responsibility for U.S. operations in the Middle East region, is drawing up the training options. Sources say the training, should President Obama give the go ahead, will likely include teaching small unit tactics to groups of Syrian rebels who would then head into Syria from the south. Training the rebels was discussed recently in Jordan during a regional defense ministers meeting attended by Joint Chiefs chairman, Gen. Martin Dempsey. Other countries could also take part in the training.

"Meanwhile, the Pentagon is also coming up with more robust bombing options for military targets in Syria. Currently, the proposal calls for degrading Assad's ability to mount chemical weapons attacks by going after his headquarters, delivery systems such as rockets and missiles, and the command and control of specific military units. But military sources say the target sets could be widened to further degrade Assad's military. Those targets could include Syrian warplanes and attack helicopters, as well as surface-to-air missile sites — used for air defenses — and coastal missile sites that could threaten ships in the Mediterranean."

The House committee's hearing is being webcast here. We'll watch for more news from it and update with highlights.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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