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Obama considering military power in Syria

Obama considering military power in Syria

Chairman of joint chiefs Martin Dempsey tells armed services committee that he has provided Obama with options for use of force

Dempsey clashed with John McCain. Photograph: J Scott Applewhite/AP

The top US military officer told a Senate panel Thursday the Obama administration is deliberating whether to use military power in Syria, where a civil war entering its third year has killed almost 93,000 people.

Amid an increasing clamor among President Assad's opposition for active US involvement, General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the joint chiefs, said during congressional testimony that he has provided President Barack Obama with options for the use of force. But he declined to detail those choices, saying "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 made his remarks after Senator John McCain, a leading Republican, asked him which approach in Syria would carry a greater risk: continued limited action on the part of Washington or more significant actions such as the establishment of a no-fly zone and arming the rebel forces with the weapons they need to stem the advance of President Assad's forces.

"Senator, I am in favor of building a moderate opposition and supporting it," Dempsey said. "The question whether to support it with direct kinetic strikes … is a decision for our elected officials, not for the senior military leader of the nation."

The use of kinetic strikes, a military term that typically refers to missiles and bombs, "is under deliberation inside of our agencies of government," Dempsey said.

Asked about Dempsey's comments, White House spokesman Jay Carney said Obama always asks his military commanders for options "and that is true in an arena like Syria." He said the president is constantly reviewing US options in Syria.

"There are a whole range of options that are out there," said navy admiral James Winnefeld, vice chairman of the joint chiefs, said of the planning for military action in Syria. "We are ready to act if we're called on to act."

McCain later told a group of reporters he plans to block Dempsey's confirmation, saying he was dissatisfied with the answers to the questions Dempsey was asked about Syria.

I want to see him answer the question," McCain said. "Hello!"

Seeking a compromise, Senator Carl Levin, a Democrat and the committee chairman, asked Dempsey to provide the panel by early next week with an unclassified list of options and the general's assessment of the pros and cons of each. Levin made clear he is not asking Dempsey to share his personal opinion on whether or not to use force in Syria. Dempsey agreed to provide the list.

Levin said he hoped the assessment from Dempsey would give McCain "greater reassurance".

"I don't know if it will, but that was the way in which I think a legitimate issue needs to be addressed," Levin told reporters.

Dempsey acknowledged in response to a question from Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican, that Assad's forces have the upper hand in Syria.

"Currently the tide seems to have shifted in his favor," the general said.

The armed services committee is considering Dempsey's and Winnefeld's nominations for a second term. The Democratic-led committee is all but certain to approve the reappointments.

Leading senators including Levin and McCain, have been pressing Obama to take a more forceful approach to defeat Assad's forces. While the administration has authorized lethal aid to rebel forces battling Assad's troops, it isn't trying to enforce a no-fly zone in which Syria's combat aircraft would be barred from flying, or otherwise intervene militarily to halt the war.

 
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