The US forces could carry out a variety of missions to support Syrian rebels in their fight against Bashar Assad’s regime, but most of these missions would bear high cost and risk of retaliation, the United States’ top military officer said.
Army General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, provided an unclassified assessment of the options for using the US military in the Syrian conflict in a letter to US lawmakers made public on Monday.
According to Dempsey, Pentagon is ready to undertake such missions as training the opposition, conducting limited stand-off strikes, establishing a no-fly zone, establishing buffer zones and controlling chemical weapons.
“All of these options would likely further the narrow military objective of helping the opposition and placing more pressure on the regime,” Dempsey said in the letter.
“We have learned from the past 10 years, however, that it is not enough to simply alter the balance of military power without careful consideration of what is necessary in order to preserve a functioning state,” he warned.
The general followed with a brief outline of potential costs and risks involved in each option.
For instance, a no-fly zone option “would require hundreds of ground and sea-based aircraft, intelligence and electronic warfare support, and enablers for refueling and communications.”
“Estimated costs are $500 million initially, averaging as much as a billion dollars per month over the course of a year,” Dempsey said, adding that the risks involved potential loss of US aircraft and failure to reduce the violence as Assad’s regime “relies overwhelmingly” on ground forces.
Even the training and advising the opposition would incur an estimated cost of $500 million a year, the general said.
The United States has been providing humanitarian aid and nonlethal help to the Syrian opposition, so far. However, the White House has recently vowed to step up its support for the Syrian opposition, including military aid, in the wake of fresh US claims that Syrian government forces have used chemical weapons multiple times during the conflict.
Leading US senators, including Democrat Carl Levin and Republican John McCain, have been pressing President Barack Obama to take a more forceful approach to defeat Assad’s forces.