Top general urges caution on Syria options, rebels

WASHINGTON Mon Mar 18, 2013 4:31pm EDT

U.S. Army General Martin Dempsey, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testifies on the Defense Department's response on the attack on U.S. facilities in Benghazi, Libya before the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing in Washington February 7, 2013. REUTERS/Gary Cameron

U.S. Army General Martin Dempsey, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testifies on the Defense Department's response on the attack on U.S. facilities in Benghazi, Libya before the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing in Washington February 7, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Gary Cameron

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States has a less clear understanding of Syria's opposition than it did last year, the top U.S. military officer said on Monday, in comments likely to disappoint rebels hoping that America might be inching toward a decision to arm them.

"About six months ago, we had a very opaque understanding of the opposition and now I would say it's even more opaque," said General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the U.S. military's Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Dempsey, who is President Barack Obama's top uniformed military adviser, said he would also advise extreme caution when deliberating any military options in Syria - saying the conflict posed "the most complex set of issues that anyone could ever conceive, literally."

"I don't think at this point I can see a military option that would create an understandable outcome," Dempsey told the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank. "And until I do, it would be my advice to proceed cautiously."

More than 70,000 Syrians have been killed in a fierce conflict that began with peaceful protests against the government of President Bashar al-Assad two years ago. Some 860,000 Syrians have fled abroad and several million are displaced within the country or need humanitarian assistance.

In a sign of the complexities of the conflict, Syrian government aircraft fired rockets into northern Lebanon, in what the U.S. State Department described on Monday as a "significant escalation." Rebels said they had fired mortar bombs at the presidential palace in Damascus.

Dempsey along with former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and the heads of the CIA and State Department favored the idea of arming Syrian rebels during discussions within the Obama administration last year.

He told reporters last month he thought it might help end the crisis more quickly and avert the collapse of government institutions.

Still, there was never a specific plan under review and Obama decided against that option. U.S. officials have voiced concerns that any weapons provided by the United States could fall into the wrong hands.

Dempsey, asked whether he would consider more robust support for Syrians that stopped short of direct U.S. military intervention, acknowledged there were "opportunities" in Syria but suggested any actions would be led by U.S. allies.

"We very much do believe that the answer to Syria is through partners, because ... there's a greater likelihood that they'll understand the complexities than we would," he said.

(Editing by Warren Strobel and Paul Simao)

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Comments (8)
Hansel11 wrote:
It makes me seek to see the “Whining” of the USA Generals. They never won a War and never will. The Rebels are not all terrorists but the Syrian People need help. Russia and Iran is supplying weapons to the Butcher Assad so why should the West not help the Opposition to even the playing Field? Yes, I understand Israel must give the Ok before the USA turns a Finger.Should the war keep on going then there will be 200 000 or more dead not only 70 000. With some Balls the west could help to end the slaughter in Syria and give the Syrians a Chance of a Future.What are the High Powered Generals are waiting for? Till everybody is DEAD? To make Things happen one must take a risk, stop the Slaughter, end the War and then work with the Fanatics to find solutions because they are part of Syria’ Future.

Mar 18, 2013 6:35pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
AlkalineState wrote:
Caution is right. Syria is one of those scenarios where there are only 3 strategic choices for other nations: Side with a genocidal dictator; side with Al Qaeda; or side with neither one.

We got enough problems.

Mar 18, 2013 7:11pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
stambo2001 wrote:
Barry needs a war of his very own but right now his pickings are pretty slim, he needs to choose between Iran, North Korea, or Syria. North Korea has already threatened nuclear attack but there is no stomach to attack them. Iran is pretty much expecting an attack at any moment so that would probably take them out of the pickings. Which leaves Syria, but that promises to be ‘complicated’ by the fact that the ‘rebels’ are in fact Al Queda. What’s poor old barry going to do? Killing woman and children with drones is starting to wear thin, in fact the UN has recently labelled it a crime.

Mar 18, 2013 7:48pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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