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Syria strike: Is loss of strategic surprise costing the US?

If and when the US carries out a missile strike, Syria's military will have had ample time to prepare, and Russia will be better positioned to provide Assad real-time intelligence, experts say.

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Cruise missiles, at launch, aren’t exactly stealth weapons – they ride hundreds of feet straight up on rockets before wings unfold, their turbofan engines start, and they fly off toward targets. Russia’s naval assets might be able to provide Syria a crucial cushion of warning time against such an attack.

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Syrian military buildings can’t move, of course. But missile launchers and the generals who command them can.

“By significantly delaying the potential strike against the Assad regime, not only has the US given Assad considerable time to prepare for the attack in Syria, it has given Russia time to position intelligence assets that can immediately alert the Assad regime of exactly when the [Tomahawk land attack] missiles are launched,” writes ISW.

The US loss of strategic surprise could also enable the Assad regime to use human shields in an attempt to protect its military assets.

Syrian opposition sources say Scud missiles and launchers have been repositioned next to schools, university dormitories, and government buildings, according to Reuters. Meanwhile, the Syrian government was packing military sites with conscripts and other troops of suspect loyalty, according to ex-soldiers.

These reports haven’t been confirmed by outside sources. But the Assad regime has a history of using human shields, according to the National Journal. Last year the UN annual report on Children and Armed Conflict charged that Syrian troops used children as young as 8 years old as shields during raids. This March, Human Rights Watch said Syrian government forces made civilians march in front of them during operations in northern Syria.

The use of human shields may be barbaric, but it’s “also the kind of tactic that, if used during a possible US strike, has the potential to completely deter and degrade the Obama administration’s plans for quick, relatively painless, and limited action,” writes the National Journal’s Matt Berman.

Finally, the slow-down in what appeared to be a US rush to conflict has allowed Assad to already claim victory, of a sort.

Assad referred to Mr. Obama’s decision to ask for a congressional vote on possible action in Syria as an “historic American retreat.” According to The New York Times, he’s told those around him that the West is bluffing in regards to a Syria attack, and that any strike would only be “cosmetic.”

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