US allies offer backing but little military support

US allies offer backing but little military support
Free Syrian Army fighters escorting vehicles carrying a team of United Nations chemical weapons experts during a visit to one of the sites of an alleged chemical weapons attack in Damascus' suburbs on Wednesday.

UNITED STATES - WHEN US President Barack Obama eventually gives his military commanders the order to strike at targets in Syria, the Americans won't be alone: Their offensive will be supported by some key European and Middle- Eastern nations.

But although the hastily convened coalition allows Mr Obama to claim broad international support for US actions, actual military contributions from these allies will be minimal, and their backing for the United States' longer-term strategy in the Middle East remains tenuous.

Britain and France have spent many months urging the US to consider military action against supporters of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, albeit for different reasons.

The critical concern for the British was the damage which a long period of inactivity appeared to be inflicting on the US' reputation in the Arab world, as well as worries of growing Iranian involvement in Syria's civil war.

France, however, was more concerned about the potential spillover from the prolonged Syrian war into neighbouring Lebanon, where around 1,000 French soldiers are stationed as peacekeepers, as well as the radicalisation of French Muslims back home.

Either way, hints that Mr Obama is planning a military operation in Syria were matched with immediate pledges of support from London and Paris. British Prime Minister David Cameron has spent the last few days huddled with his military commanders, examining various plans.

French President Francois Hollande has also vowed action, saying his country was "ready to punish" Mr Assad's government for using chemical weapons, citing a 2005 United Nations provision for international action to protect civilians from their own governments.

Ostensibly, the financial crisis which afflicts Britain and France should have also tempered enthusiasm for a new and expensive overseas intervention.

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