Top US General: Here Are America's Military Options In Syria

RTX10334U.S. President Barack Obama (L-R) is greeted by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff U.S. Army General Martin Dempsey and U.S. defence Secretary Chuck Hagel as he takes the stage for remarks at the Memorial Day observances at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia, May 27, 2013.

On Thursday Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey told a Senate committee that the Obama administration is considering the use of military force in Syria.

On the following day, the four-star general provided United States Senate Committee on Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) with an unclassified letter that details recommendations for U.S. policy options regarding the “potential use of U.S. military force in the Syrian conflict.”

Gen. Dempsey warned “the decision to use force is … no less than an act of war,” adding that the U.S. “must anticipate and be prepared for the unintended consequences of our action. … Deeper involvement is hard to avoid.”

Before going over the options, Dempsey reiterated his non-committal stance: “The decision over whether to introduce military force is a political one that our Nation entrusts to its civilian leaders. I also understand that you deserve my best military advice on how military force could be used in order to decide whether it should be used.”

Train, Advise, and Assist the Opposition
This involves using nonlethal forces “to train and advise the opposition on tasks ranging from weapons employment to tactical planning,” Dempsey wrote. “We could also offer assistance in the form of intelligence and logistics.”

This option is reportedly already in play. In May Der Spiegel reported that Americans were training Syrian anti-government fighters in Jordan, noting that the program aimed to build around a dozen units totaling some 10,000 fighters.

The U.S. currently also at least 900 combat-ready troops in Jordan.

Conduct Limited Stand-off Strikes
This option using lethal force “to strike targets that enable the regime to conduct military operations, proliferate advanced weapons, and defend itself,” Dempsey said. “Over time, the impact would be the significant degradation of regime capabilities and an increase in regime desertions.”

Israel has reportedly carried out four airstrikes in Syria this year:

  • The first, in January, targeted a convoy located at a major military research facility outside of Damascus (satellite photos here).
  • On May 3 jets bombed two locations at Damascus International Airport on May 3.
  • A strike on May 5 lit up the Syrian military’s fortress on Qasioun Mountain — hitting the headquarters of the army’s Fourth Division, the elite and feared unit run by the president’s brother Maher, as well as the command of the government’s elite Republican Guard. The strike killed at least 42 Syrian soldiers.
  • According to American officials, an Israeli strike on Jul 5 targeted advanced anti-ship cruise missiles sold to the Syria government by Russia.

Establish a No-Fly Zone
After a largely successful U.S.-led no-fly zone helped topple Col. Muammar Qaddafi in Libya in 2011, many have wondered why the Obama administration hasn’t explored a similar mission in Syria.

“Impacts would likely include the near total elimination of the regime’s ability to bomb opposition strongholds and sustain its forces by air,” he says.

But it may not have the desired effect.

“It may also fail to reduce the violence or shift the momentum because the regime relies overwhelmingly on surface fires—mortars, artillery, and missiles. “

And it would be costly.

“Estimated costs are $500 million initially, averaging as much as a billion dollars per month over the course of a year,” Dempsey writes.

Establish Buffer Zones

Establishing a buffer zone, most likely across the borders with Turkey or Jordan, where U.S. forces could safely train Syrian rebels is considered one of the most viable options.

“The opposition could use these zones to organise and train,” Dempsey notes.” They could also serve as safe areas for the distribution of humanitarian assistance.”

But in order to do this, the U.S. would need thousands of ground forces to defend those zones and hundreds of aircraft to create a provisional no-fly zone.

Dempsey estimates that a limited no-fly zone and training operations would push costs of this operation into the $1 billion per month range.

Control Chemical Weapons
This option speaks to reigning in the chemical weapons believed to be held by the Bashar al Assad regime in Syria, and that the U.S., Britain, and France all allege have been used on the rebels and civilian populace.

Gaining control of the weapons is no easy task and would cost about $1 billion a month, writes Dempsey.

“We do this by destroying portions of Syria’s massive stockpile, interdicting its movement and delivery, or by seizing and securing program components,” the letter states.

At a minimum, Dempsey says it would require “a no-fly zone as well as air and missile strikes involving hundreds of aircraft, ships, submarines, and other enablers. Thousands of special operations forces and other ground forces would be needed to assault and secure critical sites.”

What Dempsey Thinks
In March Dempsey implied military force would be a bad idea: “I don’t think at this point I can see a military option that would create an understandable outcome. And until I do, it would be my advice to proceed cautiously.”

And in the letter, he stressed that officials must “understand risk-not just to our forces, but to our other global responsibilities. … Some options may not be feasible in time or cost without compromising our security elsewhere.”

Check out the full letter >

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