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NATO nurturing Syria contingency plan - top US commander

Published time: March 20, 2013 02:38
NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) U.S. Navy Admiral James Stavridis.(Reuters / Tobias Schwarz)

NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) U.S. Navy Admiral James Stavridis.(Reuters / Tobias Schwarz)

NATO forces are focusing on a “wide range of operations” in Syria, the US top commander in Europe told the US Senate. If called upon, the international coalition is ready to engage on the same level and in same way as it did in Libya.

Speaking to the Senate’s Armed Services Committee, Commander of the US European Command (USEUCOM) Admiral James Stavridis told lawmakers that NATO's member governments were currently discussing “a variety of operations.”

He said the alliance has taken the position that it will follow the same sequence used in Libya. “We are prepared, if called upon, to be engaged as we were in Libya,” the 58-year-old admiral assured the country's political elites.

It means that prior to the NATO involvement there would first be a resolution at the UN Security Council, a regional agreement and consensus among the 28 NATO member states.

Two years of fierce fighting between the Syrian army and the foreign-backed insurgency have been marked by the failure of either side to fully win. The bitter results of Syria's civil war are well-known in Washington.

The Syrian situation continues to become worse and worse and worse: 70,000 killed, a million refugees pushed out of the country, probably two and a half million internally displaced. No end in sight to the vicious civil war,” Stavridis told the Senate’s Committee.

In Washington's eyes, the shortest way to end the bloody is to get rid of the government of President Bashar Assad. Helping to oust Assad could be done simultaneously in several directions: by imposing a no-fly zone along the Turkish-Syrian border with the help of NATO’s Patriot PAC-3 air defense complexes recently deployed there and by supplying rebels with arms or by ensuring an arms embargo on Damascus.

Shooting down Syrian aircraft in that zone would become a “powerful disincentive” to keep Syrian Air Force pilots out of the area, Stavridis promised Arizona Senator John McCain.

In addition to that, Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin got a positive answer to his question as to whether the US military is considering targeting Syrian air defenses.

Diplomacy with no teeth


While the Kremlin insists on a diplomatic solution to the bloody conflict, the Obama administration does not believe the conflict can be resolved by diplomats.

It's hard to imagine a peaceful outcome with Assad in power,” stated Anne Richard, the assistant secretary of state for Population, Refugees, and Migration, speaking at another Capitol Hill hearing on Syria.

Meanwhile, the fact that one million refugees have fled Syria - half of them in the last two months - has significantly affected the country's neighbors. Up to 10 per cent of the Lebanese population now consist of Syrian refugees. People are also fleeing to refugee camps in Jordan and Turkey.

With no end in sight, the conflict is pushing members of the US Senate to take action - by helping the Syrian insurgency.

Expanding sanctions against the Central Bank of Syria has always been within the powers of the American legislatures. Yet other steps imply direct meddling into Syria’s internal affairs.

Senators Bob Casey and Marco Rubio advocate non-lethal aid to Syrian opposition groups. The move, supported by both Democrats and Republicans, would mean providing the rebels with body armor and communications equipment.

Still, the option of simply arming the rebels is also on the table.

Down the road we may make another determination,” Casey acknowledged.

On Monday, Congressman Eliot Engel presented legislation enabling the US to train Syrian opposition groups.