U.S. ‘Not on a Path’ to Help Syrian Rebels Win, Says Dempsey

Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey outlines three things the rebels need to defeat Assad and secure Syria—none of which the U.S. is providing.

A Syrian rebel fighter walks on a dust-covered street in Aleppo following a reported government airstrike on Sunday. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons on Tuesday said it would seek to "establish facts" about claims of chlorine-gas attacks in Syria.
National Journal
Kevin Baron, Defense One
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Kevin Baron, Defense One
May 14, 2014, 12:08 p.m.

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.”

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