Dozens of U.S. officials have called on the Obama administration to order “targeted military strikes” against the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, with the aim of pressuring Damascus to accept a binding cease-fire and engage in peace talks.

The Wall Street Journal reported that 51 State Department officials advising Syria policy signed the so-called “dissent channel cable”.

State Department spokesman John Kirby confirmed the cable’s existence Thursday, but said he would not comment further until officials have reviewed its contents.

The cable expresses clear frustration with America’s inability to halt a civil war that has killed perhaps a half-million people and contributed to a worldwide refugee crisis, and goes to the heart of Obama’s reluctance to enter the fray.

“It’s embarrassing for the administration to have so many rank-and-file members break on Syria,” a former State Department official told the Journal.

Obama called for regime change early on in the conflict and threatened military strikes against Syrian forces after blaming President Bashar Assad for using chemical weapons in 2013. But Obama only has authorized strikes against the Islamic State (ISIS) and other U.S.-designated terror groups in Syria.

While Washington has provided military assistance to some anti-Assad rebels, it has favored diplomacy over armed intervention as a means of ushering Syria’s leader out of power. A series of partial cease-fires in recent months have only made the war slightly less deadly, and offered little hope of a peace settlement.

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