April 5, 2013, 7:18 p.m. ET
U.S. Reviews Military Options for Syria
By ADAM ENTOUS and JULIAN E. BARNES Wall Street Journal
The White House, under pressure from key allies and U.S. lawmakers, is
reviewing a new set of potential military options for assisting rebels in
Syria, according to U.S. officials.
Among the ideas were proposals to bomb Syrian aircraft on the ground and
to use Patriot antimissile batteries in Turkey to defend swaths of northern
Syria from the regime's Scud missiles, they said.
Agence France-Presse/Getty Images
A Syrian woman and children at a refugee camp in Idlib province, Syria,
along the Turkish border last month.
Defense officials said those two options faced potentially insurmountable
technological and legal hurdles, howeverunderscoring the difficulty of
finding a plausible way to address increasing international pressure to
weigh in more forcefully on the side of the Syrian rebels. Other options were
also presented to the White House but officials declined to discuss them.
Syria in the Spotlight
Track the latest events in a map, see the key players and a chronology of
The Wall Street Journal
* _More photos and interactive graphics_
Top U.S. national-security officials met this week at the White House to
discuss the revamped options, which were drawn up by the military's Joint
Chiefs of Staff in response to a request from the White House.
Top Syrian Defectors
See some high-profile defections that have hit the Syrian regime.
* Syrian ambassador to Iraq Nawaf Faresannounces his resignation in a
video statement Wednesday, becoming the first serving ambassador to
* In early July, Manaf Tlass, a commander in the elite Republican
Guard military unit and a longtime friend of Syria's president, leaves the
country to join family members in France.
* In June, a Syrian fighter pilot is granted political asylum by
Jordan after landing his jet at a military air base in the kingdom.
* In March, Abdo Hussameldin, a deputy in Syria's oil ministry,
becomes the highest-ranking civilian official to join the opposition and urged
his countrymen to "abandon this sinking ship" as the nation spiraled toward
* Also in March, Turkish officials say that two Syrian generals, a
colonel and two sergeants have defected from the army and crossed into
* Brig. Gen. Mostafa Ahmad al-Sheik flees to Turkey in January 2012.
He was the highest ranking officer to bolt.
* Also in January, Imad Ghalioun, a member of Syria's parliament,
leaves the country to join the opposition, saying the Syrian people are
suffering sweeping human rights violations.
* In late August 2011, Adnan Bakkour, the attorney general of the
central city of Hama, appears in a video announcing he has defected.
Source: WSJ research
President _Barack Obama_ (http://topics.wsj.com/person/O/Barack-Obama/4328)
and Pentagon chiefs remain skeptical about using force because of
concerns about being drawn into a new conflict, and this latest review may only
lead to further incremental steps, officials say.
The Obama administration has come under increasing pressure from close
allies including the U.K., France and Israel to strengthen some rebel groups
and help them gain ground militarily against the forces of Syrian President
Officials from these countries say they are concerned that radical
Islamist groups, including the al Qaeda-linked al Nusra Front, could dominate
post-Assad Syria the longer the civil war drags on. They have also told
Washington its reluctance to support moderate rebels more fully will reduce the
West's ability to influence the country's future.
As the death toll in Syria climbed over the past yearfrom 5,000 to
70,000, according to the United Nationsthe Obama administration has been
locked in debate over whether or how to intervene, exposing rifts between
State Department and Central Intelligence Agency officials who advocated
greater U.S. involvement against top White House advisers deeply resistant to
anything that would drag the U.S. directly into an open-ended conflict.
More about President Bashar al-Assad's family and the tight circle of clan
members ruling the country.
The military's Joint Chiefs of Staff first presented military options to
the White House last July. They included a no-fly zone, a humanitarian
corridor and a more limited aerial campaign, as well as options, backed by the
CIA, for arming and training rebel fighters who don't have ties to radical
Islamist groups, according to current and former officials.
Mr. Obama rebuffed the CIA's proposal to arm select rebel fighters, but
the spy agency got a green light to provide limited training to select
rebels, according to current and former officials. The White House declined to
In the new review conducted in recent weeks, the Joint Staff studied the
possibility of destroying Mr. Assad's aircraft on the ground by using
weapons that can be launched from ships offshore, reducing the need to send U.S.
aircraft into Syrian airspace.
"It makes sense to review where we are, and see if there are any
openings," a senior U.S. official said.
In addition to using the Patriots to shoot down Scud missiles inside
Syria, Joint Staff looked at the feasibility of configuring the Patriots to hit
aircraft rather than Scuds. A technical analysis by the Pentagon of the
option of using the Patriots in Turkey to intercept Scuds over northern Syria
deemed the idea unworkable, according to a senior defense official. The
Pentagon was also deeply skeptical about using the Patriots to shoot down
Syrian aircraft, according to defense officials.
Supporters of an intervention within the administration and in Congress,
however, say the Pentagon's assessments reflected the military's reluctance
to get into a shooting war in Syria.
The option of using Patriots in Turkey to defend against Scuds envisages
using the batteries to protect parts of Aleppo, Syria's largest city. But
defense officials found that the Patriots, because of range and technological
limitations, may only be able to cover a sliver of the territory.
Advocates of the proposal said even a sliver of northern Aleppo, if protected, will
help create a safe zone inside Syria in which the opposition could
Administration lawyers also have questioned on what legal grounds the U.S.
can intervene militarily without either a United Nations or North Atlantic
Treaty Organization mandate, barring a major provocation by Damascus such
as an attack on Turkey or Jordan or the use of chemical weapons.
Administration officials declined to discuss any of the options presented
to the White House but said some previously proposed options that weren't
acted upon remain on the table, including a proposal to provide body armor
and other equipment to vetted fighters.
"I'm not going to discuss the details of our internal deliberations, but
let me be clear that we are constantly reviewing every possible option that
could help end the violence and accelerate a political transition," White
House National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. Carl Levin, a Michigan
Democrat, and senior committee member Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican,
sent Mr. Obama a letter in March urging him to consider steps including
using Patriots in Turkey and destroying Syrian aircraft.
Defense officials said the idea of shooting missiles at planes on runways
and using Patriot batteries was originally briefed to lawmakers by Joseph
Holliday, a former Army officer and fellow at the Institute for the Study of
War. Mr. Holliday, who declined to discuss his briefings, defended the
technical feasibility of the options.
"The idea was, what steps could you take short of a full-scale no-fly
zone?" Mr. Holliday said. "We were looking at intermediate steps." Mr. Holliday
said it wasn't necessary to destroy every airstrip or knock down every
Scud or aircraft to create a safe zone within Syria.
"The point would be to create a space where you would have a robust
humanitarian aid program, a robust training program and a place for a
transitional government to form," Mr. Holliday said. "The employment of Patriots would
be a tactical tool to get you to a strategic objective of being able to
work with the opposition more closely."
Write to Adam Entous at _adam.entous@..._ (mailto:adam.entous@...)
and Julian E. Barnes at_julian_ (mailto:julian.barnes@...)
A version of this article appeared April 6, 2013, on page A7 in the U.S.
edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: U.S. Reviews Syria
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