Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey says the United States is not providing Syrian rebels what they would need to win the war against President Bashar al-Assad's regime.
Dempsey's remarks keep the chairman – a former division commander in the Iraq war – on familiar footing, as he leads top Pentagon generals skeptical of using direct U.S. military force to aid Syrian rebels or otherwise intervene militarily in Syria's future because of the country's anticipated long-term security needs after any initial conflict. Dempsey outlined specifically why he believes Syria's rebels need far more than a rescue mission.
"They need the force they have now, which is trying to protect local villages and try to harass the regime and level the playing field. They need something that eventually will be able to hold ground. And they need a counterterror capability – all of which is responsive to Syrians," Dempsey said Wednesday at the Atlantic Council, a NATO-oriented think tank in Washington,D.C. "And we are not on a path currently to provide that."
"That's the conversation that we need to have," Dempsey said, but not unilaterally, instead calling for countries in the region to face the reality of those needs. "It's Beirut to Damascus to Baghdad," Dempsey said.
From the outset of Syria's civil war — despite its growth in to a multi-year conflict claiming more than 100,000 lives and dispersing millions into neighboring Middle East states — Dempsey and senior U.S. military leaders, including Gen. Ray Odierno, Army chief of staff and former commander of the Iraq war, in their efforts to prepare military options in Syria for President Barack Obama, have publicly questioned the purpose of American troops in Syria after an Assad defeat.
In Syria, government forces have regained control of Homs, the country's third-largest city, where a 2-year siege has residents feeling like the war is over, according to the Los Angeles Times. Meanwhile, France alleged Syria has conducted more than one dozen chemical attacks since the United States opted against military strikes last fall, and Lakhdar Brahimi, the top United Nations negotiator on Syria resigned Tuesday, signaling the West's frustration at getting Syria's fighting factions toward any political solution and fears that much more conflict is likely to come.
"Look, if Assad took his family and all of his cronies and departed Syria today, how does that country – how does it articulate itself?" Dempsey said.
"I've heard it described as a succession of conflicts. You have the conflict that currently exists; then there'll be the second conflict, which is kind of an internal conflict; and then there'll be the third conflict against the terrorist organizations that are growing," he said. "That's probably right."