WASHINGTON, Feb. 19, 2012 — The security challenges in Syria are different geographically and militarily from those that led to NATO operations in Libya, and intervention would be difficult, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said today.
“Syria is a very different challenge,” Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey said in a CNN interview with Fareed Zakaria. “It’s a different challenge in terms of the capability of the Syrian military. They are very capable.”
Dempsey pointed to Syria’s “sophisticated, integrated” air defense system and chemical and biological capabilities as part of a “very different military problem.”
“I think intervening in Syria would be very difficult,” he said. “I think the current path of trying to gain some international consensus is the proper path, rather than take a decision to do anything unilaterally.”
Diplomatic efforts are ongoing, Dempsey said, but added that he will be prepared to provide military options to the nation’s leaders.
“I wear the uniform I wear to provide options when asked and will be prepared to do that,” he said. “But it would be a big mistake to think of this as another Libya.
“That said, of course, we’re looking at all that,” Dempsey said. “We’re trying to gather the best intelligence we can and take a look at what options we might have should we be asked to provide those to the national command authority in this country. But we haven’t been asked to do that yet.”
Dempsey noted it would be premature to decide to arm the opposition movement in Syria. “I would challenge anyone to clearly identify for me the opposition movement at this point,” he said.
“Syria is an arena right now for all of the various interests to play out. “What I mean by that is you have great power involved,” he continued. Turkey, Russia and Iran have strong interests in Syria, he added.
There are various groups who might think there is a Sunni-Shia competition for regional control, the chairman said.
“There are indications that al-Qaida is involved and that they’re interested in supporting the opposition,” he said. “There are a number of players, all of whom are trying to reinforce their particular side of this issue. And until we’re a lot clearer about who they are and what they are, I think it would be premature to talk about arming them.”
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)