Menu

Middle East

Assad regime shifting around military hardware, troops ahead of possible strike, activists say

This Sunday, Dec. 4, 2011 photo provided by the Syrian official news agency SANA, shows Syrian soldiers kneeling next to a multiple rocket launcher as they fire missiles during a maneuver at an unknown location, in Syria. As the Obama administration tries to prod Congress into backing armed action against Syria, the regime in Damascus is hiding military hardware and shifting troops out of bases into civilian areas.AP/SANA

Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime is hiding military hardware and shifting troops around ahead of a possible strike by the U.S. military, activists say.

The main Western-backed opposition group says that during the buildup last week to what seemed like an imminent U.S. attack, the army moved troops as well as rocket launchers, artillery and other heavy weapons into residential neighborhoods in cities nationwide. Three Damascus residents, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals, confirmed such movements.

One man said two members of the elite Republican Guards broke into an empty house he owns and showed him an official document stating they were authorized to do so because Syria is at war. A woman in another area said soldiers moved into a school next to her house.

That trend is likely to continue in the coming days after the regime won a reprieve following President Barack Obama's decision to seek congressional approval for military action.

"The Syrian regime knows there are 30-40 potential targets for U.S. airstrikes, and they have had ample time to prepare," said Hisham Jaber, a retired Lebanese army general and director of the Middle East Center for Studies and Political Research in Beirut. "Half of them, if not more, have been evacuated, moved or camouflaged. This is the natural thing to do."

A U.S. official confirmed there are indications that the Syrian regime is taking steps to move some of its military equipment and bolster protection for defense facilities.

The official, who was not authorized to discuss intelligence matters and spoke on condition of anonymity, said that at this point, the U.S. has the information it needs to maintain a good handle on what the regime is doing to prepare.

The regime has a range of options if the U.S. does bomb. It could retaliate with rockets against U.S. allies in the region. It could unleash allies like Hezbollah against Western targets abroad. Or it could do nothing -- and score propaganda points by portraying itself as victim of U.S. aggression.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.