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AKIPRESS.COM - President Obama has authorized military surveillance flights over Syria to gather intelligence about Islamic extremists ahead of possible U.S. airstrikes, senior administration officials said Monday, the Times reports.
The Pentagon began the flights in recent days and is prepared to use both manned and unmanned aircraft to gain a better picture of Islamic State, the well-armed extremist group that controls large swaths of territory in Syria and northern and western Iraq, the officials said.
"This is about gaining situational awareness with respect to possible airstrikes in Syria," said one official, referring to the surveillance flights.
The Pentagon has conducted surveillance of Syria before, but the latest flights are focused on identifying possible military targets, the official said.
Pentagon officials are worried that aircraft conducting the overflights could be shot down, either by Syrian army air defenses or by the militants, the official added.
But the U.S. can use high-altitude U-2 spy planes and drones to lessen the danger from antiaircraft fire and possibly jet-powered drones with radar-deflecting stealth technology.
Syrian air defenses are not as formidable in remote areas in the country's north and east near Iraq, where Islamic State fighters are concentrated and where the flights are likely to focus, a second official said.
But some Islamic State militants and leaders have also pushed into Syrian cities, where the air defenses are considered formidable, raising the risk that a U.S. plane could be shot down.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the mission.