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Official: Obama in position to proceed with plan to arm Syrian rebels

July 23, 2013 at 10:36 AM   |   Comments

WASHINGTON, July 23 (UPI) -- A resolution of congressional concerns has put President Barack Obama in a position to move forward with a plan to arm Syrian rebels, an official said.

Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Mich., of the House Intelligence Committee seemed to clear the path for such a plan to proceed in a statement he made, CNN reported Tuesday.

"After much discussion and review, we got a consensus that we could move forward with what the administration's plans and intentions are in Syria consistent with committee reservations," Rogers said.

The first detailed list of military options for Syria was provided to Congress in a letter from Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin E. Dempsey to Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Dempsey told Congress a campaign to tilt the balance of power from Syrian President Bashar Assad to the opposition would be a vast undertaking costing billions of dollars, and could backfire on the United States, The New York Times reported.

Options, which are not new, ranged from training opposition troops to conducting airstrikes and enforcing a no-fly zone over Syria.

However, the letter provided details about the logistics and costs of each.

Dempsey noted long-range strikes on the Syrian government's military targets would require "hundreds of aircraft, ships, submarines and other enablers," and cost "in the billions."

"Once we take action, we should be prepared for what comes next. Deeper involvement is hard to avoid," Martin Dempsey said in the letter.

Dempsey -- being considered by the panel for another two-year term as the principal military adviser to President Obama -- wrote the letter at the request of Levin and committee member John McCain, R-Ariz.

McCain threatened to block Dempsey's nomination until the Army general provided his personal opinion on the relative merits of different types of U.S. military action in Syria.

The Friday letter -- available at tinyurl.com/UPI-Dempsey-Letter -- was the first time the military has explicitly described what it sees as the formidable challenge of intervening in the 28-month-old conflict.

Troops loyal to Assad have in recent weeks seized the momentum in the war that has killed more than 100,000 and confounded U.S. policymakers.

Dempsey, whose current term expires Sept. 30, told McCain at a hearing last week he was reluctant to publicly discuss military options in Syria while the White House was still reviewing them.

"It would be inappropriate for me to try to influence the decision with me rendering an opinion in public about what kind of force we should use," Dempsey testified.

McCain and Levin have advocated for a stronger response to the civil war in Syria.

Dempsey's letter, based on his "unclassified assessment," said establishing a no-fly zone to protect Syrian rebels -- a move McCain has advocated -- "would require hundreds of ground and sea-based aircraft, intelligence and electronic warfare support," with the cost "averaging as much as $1 billion per month over the course of a year."

Thousands of U.S. troops would be needed to create and defend so-called buffer zones to protect neighboring countries such as Turkey and Jordan, Dempsey said.

These zones, requiring a limited no-fly zone coupled with U.S. ground forces, "would push the costs over $1 billion per month," Dempsey said.

Controlling Syrian chemical weapons would minimally "call for a no-fly zone as well as air and missile strikes involving hundreds of aircraft, ships, submarines and other enablers," Dempsey said.

"Thousands of special operations forces and other ground forces would be needed to assault and secure critical [chemical weapons] sites. Costs could also average well over $1 billion per month," he said.

McCain and Levin had no immediate public comment about the letter.

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