Top U.S. general backed arming Syrian rebels "conceptually"

Sun Feb 10, 2013 5:08pm EST
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By David Alexander

ABOARD A U.S. MILITARY AIRCRAFT (Reuters) - The top U.S. military officer said on Sunday he favored the idea of arming Syrian rebels during discussions within the Obama administration about how to help resolve the country's civil war, but there was never a specific plan under review.

General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he thought arming the rebels might help end the crisis more quickly and avert the collapse of government institutions, which could lead Syria to become a failed state.

"Conceptually I thought if there were a way to resolve the military situation more quickly it would work to the benefit not only of the Syrian people but also us," Dempsey told reporters aboard his plane from Afghanistan, where he attended a change-of-command ceremony for NATO-led forces.

"A failed state is defined by the collapse of its institutions," he said. "And so conceptually we thought about ways to prevent that from happening. Conceptually I was in agreement. Now there were enormous complexities involved that we still haven't resolved."

Dempsey and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta acknowledged their support for arming Syrian rebels during a Senate hearing last week, the first time they had been queried about the issue.

The CIA and State Department had recommended arming the rebels last year, but President Barack Obama ultimately decided against pursuing the option.

The revelation that Dempsey and Panetta had supported the idea along with CIA and State Department officials underlined the divisions in the administration over how to deal with the Syrian crisis.


U.S. Army General Martin Dempsey, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testifies on the Defense Department's response on the attack on U.S. facilities in Benghazi, Libya before the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing in Washington February 7, 2013. REUTERS/Gary Cameron