Syria Different Challenge Than Libya, Chairman Says

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)