The US Senate has voted nearly unanimously to assess military options to cripple the air force of Syrian President Assad. Lawmakers said the action aims to stop the killing of civilians, but critics claim it may herald a Libya-style no-fly zone.
Ninety-two Senators voted to move forward with a Pentagon report on possible military options in Syria, with six opposing the legislation.
The bill in question gives US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta 90 days in which to carry out the study and report back to the Senate with the findings, aimed at “advancing the goals of President Obama of stopping the killing of civilians in Syria and creating conditions for a transition to a democratic, pluralistic, political system in Syria."
The report will detail three military options, including the deployment of Patriot missiles in the Syria-Turkey border zone, the creation of a no-fly zone and the possibility of airstrikes on key government air bases.
During the Senate vote, advocates of the new bill were quick to emphasize that the legislation did not call for the deployment of US ground troops in Syria.
“This amendment is clear that it will not consider ground troops being deployed onto Syrian territory, that it will only look at means that might be used by the United States or allies to stop Assad's reckless, relentless, criminal use of air power to murder his own civilians, his own citizens,” Delaware Senator Chris Coons said.
The Senate stopped short of unanimous support for the bill when some Senators voiced criticisms, prompting a roll-call vote. Kentucky Senator Rand Paul objected, aruging that the legislation could pave the way for greater military involvement in the conflict. He also questioned whether the Syrian opposition was a valid replacement for the embattled President Bashar al-Assad.
“How can we be confident that the opposition will be tolerant, inclusive, peaceful?” Paul said while addressing the Senate. The last no-fly zone, in Libya, yielded a “questionable result,” replacing Moammar Gaddafi with a government that is not pro-American, he said.
A Senate staffer told US publication the Cable that the near-unanimous vote was indicative of “uneasiness and dissatisfaction” towards current policy on Syria and the lack of progress on the ground.
In a show of support for the nascent unified Syrian opposition coalition, Washington is considering classifying Al Nusra, another principal opposition group, as a terrorist organization. The Obama administration was previously reluctant to condemn any Syrian opposition groups, championing them as a viable alternative to President Assad.
US publication McClutchy, who reported on the plans, said that the announcement is likely to precede the first meeting between US diplomats and the new Syrian coalition on December 12.
Recently, Western governments have been putting further pressure on the Assad regime over reports that the Syrian government is considering using its chemical weapons.
NATO foreign ministers approved the deployment of Patriot missiles along the Syria-Turkey border on Tuesday at the behest of the Turkish government. The officials stressed that the US-made missiles were strictly for defensive purposes, and that NATO would not support the creation of a no-fly zone or an offensive incursion into the country.
President Obama warned President Assad that the use of chemical weapons would be “unacceptable” and would be met with “consequences.” He did not elaborate on the nature of the consequences.