Assad forces evacuate Damascus, dig in for looming US strikes

The military's central headquarters, along with military command and control stations in the capital were also abandoned in preparation for the looming U.S. offensive.


Artillery batteries based in Damascus, used to fire on rebel positions around the country, were also found abandoned, according to local residents. 

Former Syrian Army Brig. Gen. Mustafa al-Sheikh told Reuters that Assad's general staff and other senior military leaders had relocated to fortified compounds in the foothills of the Anti-Lebanon Mountains north of Damascus.

"Various commands are being moved to schools and underground bunkers. But I am not sure it is going to do much good for the regime," Sheikh said.

U.S. forces are expected to begin missile strikes against military targets in Syria in the coming days, in retaliation to the reported use of chemical weapons by Assad's forces in the country's years-long civil war. 

U.S. warships are already in station in the Mediterranean, off the Syrian coastline, awaiting orders from Washington to begin missile strikes. 

London has begun moving fighter jets and cargo aircraft to the United Kingdom's massive air base in Cyprus, off the Syrian coast, to support the coming American offensive. 

U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck HagelCharles (Chuck) Timothy HagelOvernight Defense: Navy medic killed after wounding 2 sailors in Maryland shooting | Dems push Biden for limits on military gear transferred to police | First day of talks on Iran deal 'constructive' 140 national security leaders call for 9/11-style panel to review Jan. 6 attack Trump Afghan pullout deal unachievable, says ex-Pentagon leader MORE told the BBC on Tuesday that the United States was “ready to go” if orders came from President Obama to launch military strikes. 

The Obama administration is reportedly targeting particular military units and bases in Syria seen as responsible for carrying out chemical weapon attacks against rebel forces in the country. 

The entire target list drafted by U.S. military and intelligence officials includes no more than 50 sites inside Syria where forces loyal to President Bashar Assad are stationed, according to The New York Times. 

Military planners at the Pentagon and White House are avoiding specifically targeting suspected caches of chemical weapons stockpiles, fearing that strikes would release the deadly contents of those stockpiles into nearby towns and villages.

Instead, the preliminary target list for a Syria operation includes locations of the specific military units and military headquarters executed the chemical attacks. 

But the Syria operation is already receiving pushback on Capitol Hill. 

Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulTim Scott sparks buzz in crowded field of White House hopefuls Sherrod Brown calls Rand Paul 'kind of a lunatic' for not wearing mask Overnight Health Care: WHO-backed Covax gets a boost from Moderna MORE (R-Ky.) said Wednesday that the strikes would not serve any U.S. national security interests. 

"The war in Syria has no clear national security connection to the United States, and victory by either side will not necessarily bring in to power people friendly to the United States,” Paul said.

Sen. James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Senate nixes Trump rule limiting methane regulation | Senate confirms EPA chief: Biden's climate goals are 'an opportunity to lead' | Fine-particle pollution disproportionately hurts people of color: research EPA chief: Biden's climate goals are 'an opportunity to lead' Senate confirms Pentagon policy chief criticized by Republicans for tweets MORE (R-Okla.) said the Pentagon cannot afford to carry out any kind of operation in Syria, due to the fiscal restraints put on the U.S. military under sequestration. 

"Our troops are stretched thin, the defense budget has been slashed to historic levels, and we are facing an unprecedented time of unrest across the Middle East," Inhofe said. 

"No red line should have been drawn without the strategy and funding to support it," he added. 

The White House has warned that use of chemical weapons would cross a "red line," triggering an armed response from U.S. and NATO forces. 

Nearly 100 House members, including more than a dozen Democrats, are arguing that President Obama would violate the Constitution if he does not get authorization from Congress before launching a military strike in Syria.