The United States, without approval from the Bashar Assad regime, could soon begin reconnaissance flights over Syria in preparation for possibly expanding the bombing campaign against Islamic State militants, the Wall Street Journal reported Monday evening. The information gathered would supplement what already is being collected by satellites and other sources.
"There is no decision yet to do strikes, but in order to help make that decision, you want to get as much situational awareness as possible," a source told the Journal.
The New York Times also reported that President Barack Obama has approved surveillance flights over Syria.
The Islamic State, formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, has seized vast swaths of land in northern and eastern Syria and northwestern Iraq in recent months, and conducted mass executions and ethnic cleansing. Its capture of the Mosul Dam in Iraq and push into Kurdish territory prompted President Barack Obama to approve limited airstrikes earlier this month that enabled the Kurds to retake territory.
The Journal said the U.S. Central Command wants more surveillance aircraft so further IS targets can be identified. The report said at least some secret flights already have been conducted with drones and manned aircraft, which led to a failed effort to rescue Americans being held by the extremists.
Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said last week that the Islamic State would eventually need to be addressed on "both sides of what is essentially at this point a non-existent border" between Syria and Iraq, Reuters reported.
Dempsey's spokesman confirmed Monday that options against IS were under review and stressed the need to form "a coalition of capable regional and European partners."
IS released a video last week of the beheading, apparently in Syria, of American photojournalist James Foley. During the video, a black-clad figure said the execution was in retaliation for the bombings. The execution prompted further bombings. The U.S. administration vowed to defeat the group, calling it a "cancer" that needs to be eliminated.
At the daily White House press briefing, spokesman Josh Earnest said Obama has yet to make a decision on whether to widen the bombing mission. Asked if bombing IS in Syria would help the embattled dictator Assad, Earnest said the United States is "not interested in trying to help the Assad regime. …
"The president has already demonstrated a willingness to order military attacks to prevent a genocide that [ISIS] said that they were preparing to carry out against some ethnic and religious minorities in Iraq. And the president has already demonstrated a willingness to use some authority, some executive -- or to order military action in furtherance of some counterterrorism goals. That is also a priority, and that is true not just in Iraq and not just in Syria, but also in countries around the world."
The Syrian government, meanwhile, said Monday it is ready to cooperate with any anti-terrorism effort. Foreign Minister Walid Al-Moallem warned, however, any airstrike "not coordinated with the government will be considered aggression," the Associated Press reported.