Thursday, March 21, 2013
NATO planning for possible Syria missions
The top U.S. military commander in Europe said Tuesday that NATO is conducting contingency planning for possible military involvement in Syria and American forces would be prepared if called upon by the United Nations and member countries.
The Syrian civil war marked an ignominious two-year milestone this week with no sign that President Bashar Assad is close to giving up power. Adm. James Stavridis, commander of U.S. European Command, told a Senate panel that the United States is "looking at a variety of operations."
"We are prepared if called upon to be engaged," Stavridis told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Stavridis, who is retiring soon, also said the option of assisting the opposition forces in Syria in ways that would break the deadlock are being actively explored by NATO members. A resolution from the U.N. Security Council and agreement among the alliance's 28 members would be required before NATO assumes a military role in Syria, he said.
"The Syrian situation continues to become worse and worse and worse - 70,000 killed, a million refugees pushed out of the country, probably 2.5 million internally displaced (people)," Stavridis said. "No end in sight to a vicious civil war."
The commander said discussions within the NATO member countries have focused on imposing a no-fly zone, providing lethal support to the Syrian opposition forces and imposing arms embargoes.
Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., asked whether there is any consideration of targeting Syria's air defenses. Stavridis simply said yes.
NATO has installed Patriot missile defense batteries in southern Turkey along the border with Syria that are also capable of shooting down aircraft. During an exchange with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., Stavridis said the Patriots could be positioned in such a way as to shoot down Syrian aircraft and he indicated that doing so would be a powerful disincentive for pilots to fly in that area.
At another Capitol Hill hearing on Syria, senior State Department officials said even if the Assad regime falls, humanitarian aid to the Syrian people will have to continue.
Anne Richard, the assistant secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration, also made clear that the Obama administration does not foresee a negotiated settlement to the crisis despite diplomatic efforts.
"It's hard to imagine a peaceful outcome with Assad in power," Richard said.