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Armed Conflict

Top US General Dempsey outlines military options for Syria

The United States top military officer has outlined what he sees as the country’s options for intervening in Syria. However, he stressed that any decision about going to war was up to the country’s civilian leadership.

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey set out the five options that the US military would be prepared to undertake with regard to Syria, in a nonclassified letter released to the public on Monday.

These are: training and advising Syria's opposition movement, conducting limited air strikes, establishing a no-fly zone, setting up buffer zones and moving in to take control of the regime's chemical weapons.

"All of these options would likely further the narrow military objective of helping the opposition and placing more pressure on the regime," Dempsey's letter said.

At the same time it contained a warning to the country's civilian leaders, who, he noted, would be responsible for making the ultimate decision to pursue any military option.

"We have learned from the past 10 years, however, that it is not enough to simply alter the balance of military power without careful consideration of what is necessary in order to preserve a functioning state," the letter said, in an apparent reference to the US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq more than a decade ago.

"We must anticipate and be prepared for the unintended consequences of our action," Dempsey added.

He also detailed the advantages of and risks of each of the five options, as well as providing cost estimates. He put training and advising the opposition at the low end of the scale, at just $500 million (379 million euros) per year. Setting up buffer zones or taking control of Syria's chemical weapons, the letter said, would cost more than a billion dollars per month.

The letter came in response to questions posed by the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Democrat Senator Carl Levin, who released it to the public, and Republican Senator John McCain.

At a hearing last week to consider Dempsey's nomination for a second year term as chairman of the Joint Chiefs, McCain had threatened to hold up the process until he responded to questions on Syria.

The United Nations estimates that as many as 100,000 people have been killed since fighting broke out between Syrian government troops and rebel forces in March 2011.

pfd/jr (AP, Reuters, AFP)