The United States is taking serious steps Tuesday morning to prepare for airstrikes on Islamic State of Iraq and Syria forces inside Syria. President Obama is ordering U.S. reconnaissance flights over that country, reports CBS News correspondent David Martin.
The president is not approving any airstrikes yet, and the Syrian government of President Bashar Assad has said it needs to know about any attack ahead of time.
A Pentagon source tells Martin it is not yet clear whether the surveillance flights have begun, but if they have not, they will certainly begin sometime today.
The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS, also known as ISIL,) is based in a remote part of northeastern Syria where U.S. officials say there would be little threat of American warplanes being shot down by Syrian air defenses. The plans being drafted by the Pentagon would use strikes by both manned and unmanned aircraft in an attempt to disrupt ISIS operations and kill its senior leaders.
The planning began in earnest following last week's execution of journalist James Foley. Defense Secretary Hagel calling ISIS "an imminent threat to every interest we have," and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey, saying the group "has an apocalyptic, end-of-days strategic vision . . . which will eventually have to be defeated."
President Obama has not yet made a decision but his spokesman suggested ISIS could not count on Syria remaining a sanctuary.
"The president has already demonstrated a willingness, where necessary, to use military force to protect the American people, regardless of borders," Press Secretary Josh Earnest said.
Until now U.S. airstrikes have been aimed at ISIS forces in Iraq. Those strikes have stalled the ISIS advance across northern Iraq but left its center of power in Syria untouched.
Airstrikes on the Syrian side of the border could disrupt but not defeat ISIS. That would require sending in troops on the ground, a move President Obama hasruled out for both Iraq and Syria.
In Iraq, the U.S. is arming Iraqi and Kurdish ground troops and will perhaps send in more advisers to help take back territory seized by ISIS.
In Syria, the administration has requested $500 million from Congress to train and equip local fighters to go after ISIS, but officials admit those are long range plans at best.
The U.S. is in a tricky geopolitical situation in Syria, where it does not recognize the legitimacy of the sitting government. Pentagon officials tell CBS News that despite the request of the Assad regime to pre-approve activity within its borders, that is unlikely to happen.