Top military leader - Syria risky for US
08 March 2012, 08:47
Washington - Defence Secretary Leon Panetta pushed back on Wednesday
against fresh demands for US military involvement in Syria to end
President Bashar Assad's deadly crackdown on his people.
doesn't make sense is to take unilateral action right now," Panetta told
the Senate Armed Services Committee about advising President Barack
Obama to dispatch US forces. "I've got to make very sure we know what
the mission is... achieving that mission at what price."
panel's top Republican, Senator John McCain, said the estimated 7 500
dead and the bloodshed calls for US leadership that a Democratic
president, Bill Clinton, displayed during the Bosnian war in the 1990s
and that Obama eventually showed on Libya last year.
"In past situations, America has led. We're not leading, Mr Secretary," McCain told Panetta.
Pentagon chief later added that the United States is not holding back
and is leading in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and fighting terrorism.
before the committee, Army General Martin Dempsey and Panetta offered a
cautionary note to the call by McCain to launch US airstrikes against
"This terrible situation has no simple answers," Panetta told the panel.
has resisted calls to step into the turmoil in Syria to stop Assad's
crackdown on protesters. He told a news conference on Tuesday that the
international community has not been able to muster a campaign against
Syria like the one in Libya that ousted Muammar Gaddafi last year.
Five times stronger
us to take military action unilaterally, as some have suggested, or to
think that somehow there is some simple solution, I think is a mistake,"
"What happened in Libya was we mobilized the
international community, had a UN Security Council mandate, had the full
co-operation of the region, Arab states, and we knew that we could
execute very effectively in a relatively short period of time. This is a
much more complicated situation."
Obama's strategy has been to use sanctions and international diplomatic isolation to pressure Assad into handing over power.
Pentagon chief said the United States is currently focused on isolating
the Assad regime diplomatically and politically, arguing that it has
lost all legitimacy for killing its own people. He left open the
possibility of military action, saying the Obama administration
continues to assess the situation and would adjust its strategy as
Dempsey said among the military options are enforcement
of a no-fly zone and humanitarian relief. He said a long-term,
sustained air campaign would pose a challenge because Syria's air
defences are five times more sophisticated than Libya's.
He said Syria's chemical and biological weapons stockpile is 100 times larger than Libya's.
also need to be alert to extremists, who may return to well-trod
ratlines running through Damascus, and other hostile actors, including
Iran, which has been exploiting the situation and expanding its support
to the regime," Dempsey said.
"And we need to be especially
alert to the fate of Syria's chemical and biological weapons. They need
to stay exactly where they are."
McCain, along with Sensators
Lindsey Graham, a Republican, and Joe Lieberman, an independent, have
called for US military involvement.
But the issue has divided
Republicans, with House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican, insisting
on Tuesday that the situation is too muddled and US military involvement
would be premature.
Committee Chair Carl Levin, a Democrat, said there is no consensus on how to get Assad to leave.