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Helping Syrian rebels wouldn’t benefit US - Dempsey

Helping Syrian rebels wouldn’t benefit US - Dempsey
The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff does not believe the Syrian rebels would support US interests in case America helps them defeat Assad, according to General Martin Dempsey’s letter, obtained by AP.

In an August 19 letter to Congressman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), Dempsey writes that the US military had the capability to destroy the Syrian air force and thus shift the balance of the two year old war in favor of the rebels. The General however doubts the reasonability of doing so.

"The use of U.S. military force can change the military balance,” Dempsey said. “But it cannot resolve the underlying and historic ethnic, religious and tribal issues that are fueling this conflict.''

Engel is an advocate of increasing US military presence in Syria. He proposed the use of cruise missiles and other weapons against Assad-controlled air bases in his letter to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, dated August 5. Dempsey has on the contrary continually warned the country’s political elite against stronger military commitment in the conflict, citing the US experience in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In his letter, Dempsey points out the factionalism of the Syrian opposition, not all of which shares the Western vision of the country’s future.

“Syria today is not about choosing between two sides but rather about choosing one among many sides,'' Dempsey says. “It is my belief that the side we choose must be ready to promote their interests and ours when the balance shifts in their favor. Today, they are not.''

Dempsey described Syria's war as “tragic and complex”, which has been supported by the recent developments there. 

On Wednesday, reports emerged of deadly chemical weapons use in Syria, with conflicting accounts of the events in the media giving the number of casualties from dozens to over 1,000. The news came on the same day that the UN inspectors arrive in Damascus to investigate allegations of use of toxic arms.

The Syrian conflict has already killed more than 100,000 people, with atrocities being committed on all sides. On Tuesday, Kurdish militias battled against Al-Qaida-linked fighters in the northeast of Syria. Iraqi officials had to set up an entry quota for Syrian Kurds fleeing escalating violence against them in what’s developing into a full blown side conflict of the Syrian war.

When the House and Senate Intelligence Committees gave a green light to arm Syrian rebels in July, Martin Dempsey was not optimistic about the move, warning of the huge expenses military options entailed, specifying that a no-fly zone over Syria could cost the US between $500 million and $1 billion a month to maintain.  He reiterated his concerns in the letter to Engel.

“It is a deeply rooted, long-term conflict among multiple factions, and violent struggles for power will continue after Assad's rule ends,” he wrote. “We should evaluate the effectiveness of limited military options in this context.” 

Dempsey thus supported the Obama administration's current policy of providing humanitarian assistance and some limited help to moderate opposition, saying that would be “the best framework for an effective U.S. strategy toward Syria.''