American officials told The New York Times that the Syrian military has launched a handful of SCUD missiles at rebel positions in recent days, the first time they've used the weapons inside their own country. A senior official says that Obama administration considers this "a significant escalation," and a particularly worrying one given the very real possibility that SCUDs could be used to deliver chemical weapons.
The same officials speculate that Bashar al-Assad's forces may be growing desperate and have turned to the missiles, because their air force has been compromised in some areas of the country. Recent rebel attacks have allowed them to overrun several government air bases and turn the anti-aircraft defenses stationed there against their own planes. (Rebels also appear to have struck at the Syrian interior ministry today, and are reaching further in Damascus all the time.) The change in tactics has also come after NATO agreed to move Patriot missile batteries to Turkey, recalling memories of the first Gulf War when the early Patriot systems did battle with Iraqi SCUD missiles over Kuwait and Israel.
The administration has taken some heat this week for its decision to declare the militant group Jabhat al-Nusra a terrorist organization Tuesday evening. (This despite finally recognizing the rebel coalition as a legitimate leader in Syria.) While the move is intended to distance Nusra (which the U.S. believes is an affiliate of al-Qaeda) from the rebels, it has had the opposite effect, as most rebel brigades consider Nusra to be a useful partner that has done far more to bring about the fall of Assad than the Americans have.