Not exactly a broken record, but for more than a year General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has found many ways to make it clear he does not want to get involved in the Syria conflict.
"I think it would be premature to exclusively decide that the time for a military option was upon us."
"It is a much different situation than we collectively saw in Libya. I think that's an important point to make, because we don't have as clear an understanding of the nature of the opposition."
"I think diplomatic pressure should always precede any discussions about military options. And that's my job by the way is options, not policy. And so we`ll -- we`ll be prepared to provide options if asked to do so."
"The pressures that are being brought to bear are simply not having the effect, I think, that we intend. But I'm not prepared to advocate that we abandon that track at this point."
"This is one where we need to continue to shape it diplomatically and economically before we would think about applying a military instrument of power."
"The issue of outcomes, I think, is the important question. And as we decide or discuss about the application of any number of means, whether it's humanitarian assistance all the way up through no-fly zones, I think we have to -- we have to understand that the -- we have to have a pretty clear view of what outcome we're seeking to achieve."
"The -- the effort -- or the act of preventing the use of chemical weapons would be almost unachievable."
"I don't think at this point I can see a military option that would create an understandable outcome. And until I do, it would be my advice to proceed cautiously."
"I have grave concerns that Syria could be a frozen conflict, if you will -- one that is in a perpetual state of conflict. ... And that is why I think that the diplomatic solution that finds an accommodation for all parties and that avoids sectarian conflict is clearly the best option."
"We're prepared with options, should the -- should military force be called upon and assuming it can be effectively used to secure our interests without making matters worse. We must also be ready for options for an uncertain and dangerous future. That is a future we have not yet identified."
"Before we take action, we have to be prepared for what comes next."
"Whether the military effect would produce the kind of outcome I think that not only members of Congress but all of us would desire -- which is an end to the violence, some kind of political reconciliation among the parties, and a stable Syria -- that's the reason I've been cautious about the application of the military instrument of power.... It's not clear to me that it would produce that outcome."
Photo by Scott J. Ferrell/Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images
With security deteriorating in Tripoli, Libya, the U.S. has shifted several dozen U.S. Marines and assault aircraft of the rapid response force that just arrived in Spain eastward to Sigonella, Italy.
The Pentagon's spokesman called the move a precautionary measure but would not say it was directly tied to Tripoli, which foreign diplomats and oil companies recently have begun evacuating. On Monday a car bomb reportedly exploded outside a hospital in Benghazi, killing 10 people.
The shift to Naval Station Signoella marks the first assignment for the response force -- a group of 550 Marines and six MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft, which only arrived at Moron Air Base two weeks ago. A defense official told the E-Ring that the number of personnel moved from Moron totaled "less than 100."
Call them the Benghazi Unit. Officially dubbed Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force-Crisis Response, the unit was created specifically as the Pentagon's answer to congressional criticism that troops were not available in Europe or Africa to respond quickly enough to the September 11, 2012, attack on a U.S. compound in Benghazi that killed four Americans.
The unit falls under Africa Command's purview and Marine Corps Commandant Jim Amos told Congress to expect they will be moving around Africa.
Previously the U.S. shored up embassy security in Tripoli with a 150-member platoon from Special Marine Air Ground Task Force - Africa.
The E-Ring has heard some Pentagon staff speculation that having the new rapid-response force for AFRICOM frees up similar troops under European Command to respond, if needed, to any unrest from the Syrian conflict.
Pentagon press secretary George Little, on Monday, scoffed at that suggestion.
"I'm not going to get into the specific of our response -- or our potential response -- but we are prepared if necessary to respond to security conditions throughout the region," he said.
How far eastward does "the region" stretch, in this case?
"What I would say, I guess -- and read between the lines here, it won't be that hard -- is that, I think, the secretary and the president have been very clear that boots on the ground options in Syria are not likely."
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The top two Democratic and Republican senators on national security issued a new bipartisan plea for President Barack Obama to lead a military campaign against Syria, including missile strikes and arming opposition rebels, in pointed floor speeches.
Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., took the floor with a long list of limited U.S. military interjections into the conflict. They argued such moves were not only possible, but necessary to save lives and prevent spillover instability in the Middle East.
The two men wrote Obama in March calling for intervention, but Thursday's speeches come with specific military options and far more bipartisan support on Capitol Hill for a stronger response to Bashar al-Assad's regime, especially since the White House's acknowledgement in late April that the intelligence community believes chemical weapons have been used by Syria.
"No one should think that the United States has to act alone, put boots on the ground, or destroy every Syrian air defense system to make a difference for the better in Syria," McCain said. "We have more limited options at our disposal -- including limited military options -- that can make a positive impact on this crisis."
McCain said the United States should at least target Syria's ballistic missiles, preventing the possibility that they could be fitted to carry chemical weapons.
"We could use our precision strike capabilities to target Assad's aircraft and SCUD missile launchers on the ground without our pilots having to fly into the teeth of Syria's air defenses. Similar weapons could be used to selectively destroy artillery pieces and make Assad's forces think twice about remaining at their posts. We could also use Patriot missile batteries outside of Syria to help protect safe zones inside of Syria from Assad's aerial bombing and missile attacks.
"Would any of these options immediately end the conflict? Probably not. But they could save innocent lives in Syria," said McCain.
Levin said the Armed Services Committee next week is scheduled to receive a classified briefing it requested from top Pentagon brass on military options for Syria. Under Secretary of Defense Jim Miller, DOD's policy chief, and Lt. Gen. Terry Wolff, the J-5, or director of strategic plans and policy for the Joint Staff, are slated to appear. The committee will, he said, "urge them to carry a message back to the administration that it is time to up the military pressure on Assad."
But the chairman did not wait to give his own suggestion.
"In my view, the facts on the ground today make the consequences of inaction too great. It is time for the United States and our allies to use ways to alter the course of events in Syria by increasing the military pressure on Assad," Levin said.
Levin asked Obama to support Turkey in creating a "safe zone" inside Syria, deploying Patriot batteries close to the border, "neutralize" any Syria threats, and arm "vetted" opposition rebels.
He also argued that military action would give Secretary of State John Kerry political "backing" to bring Russia into a solution to end the conflict, while continuing to condemn Russia for supporting Assad's regime.
Sen. Bob Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who on Monday introduced a bill to arm the rebels, said the threat of a humanitarian crisis in Jordan -- which has seen half a million registered Syrian refugees cross its border, already -- was reason enough for prompt action. King Abdullah II of Jordan told senators during his April visit, Menendez said, that the population of Jordan already has increased by 20 percent due to Syrian inflows and he fears it could double.
"We cannot afford for that ally to ultimately find itself in a position in which it could very well collapse," Menendez said.
"I would suggest a bipartisan consensus is forming in the United State Senate that now is time to do more, not less, when it comes to Syria" said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., including arming "the right rebels, the right opposition, with the right weapons."
Graham said there is now enough bipartisan support to "turn the tide in Washington," calling the trend a "monumental sea change."
"To the opposition: this is a great day for you. To Assad: this seals your fate," Graham said.
Graham also tried to connect the Syrian conflict to the specter of Islamist-inspired bombings in the United States.
"There is enough chemical weapons in Syria to kill thousands if not millions of Americans and people who are our allies," said Graham, noting that he's worried Syrian chemical weapons could end up being used inside the United States.
"The next bomb that goes off in America may have more than nails and glass in it."
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Tomahawk cruise missiles, fighter jets, aerial refueling tankers, flying hours -- the taxpayer cost for creating and holding a no-fly zone over Syria seems like an expensive operation, right?
Not so fast. According to defense budget analysts, creating a no-fly zone over Syria may be far easier -- and cheaper, as military operations go -- than top brass are letting on.
There are several factors that contribute to the cost of a no-fly zone, but in short it all depends on just how far the United States and its allies are willing to take it. The size and duration of the operation are top factors. But there's more than one way to keep Syria's Air Force out of the skies.
"I get why people get so amped up about no-fly zones" said Christopher Harmer, senior naval analyst at the Institute for the Study of War. People often tend to think of Iraq, he told the E-Ring, and the 12 year-long complex, high-demand Operation Southern Watch and Operation Northern Watch. Those missions cost an estimated $1 billion per year, combined.
But that was a "full" no-fly zone controlling a large adversarial territory. It would take far less to protect the smaller skies over Syria, which maintains far less air power, defense analysts believe.
"Is the goal to establish a classic no-fly zone, or is the goal to ground the Syrian Air Force?" Harmer said. "Establishing a classic no-fly zone is time consuming and costly; grounding the Syrian Air Force is as simple as sending a few cruisers and destroyers from Norfolk over to the Eastern Med and dropping 250 (Tomahawk) TLAM into Syria."
"That ends the Syrian Air Force in less than an hour."
The actual attack may take a bit longer, like the assault on Libya's air defenses, but still fares better than a sustained no-fly zone.
"Tomahawk TLAM cruise missiles can easily degrade the very limited Syrian Air Force down to almost nonexistence," Harmer contends. "We launch TLAM at the runways, radars, fuel farms, and aircraft themselves, and without U.S. aircraft getting anywhere near the Syrian airspace, we effectively create a no-fly zone -- not by enforcement, but by eliminating the Syrian Air Force."
Let's start some rough calculations here. TLAMs go for an estimated $1.41 million each, so that brings the tab to $352.5 million, just for the hardware. Then there's the cost of the naval vessels and thousands of personnel manning them required to support the mission that otherwise may not be deployed in the area.
So far, that's not bad compared to other U.S. military missions. Consider that the Pentagon in fiscal year 2012 spent $10 billion per month in Afghanistan and once estimated that each soldier in the war zone cost $1 million per year.
Syria is believed to have, Harmer explained in an email, "less than 100 flyable fixed wing aircraft [and] probably closer to 50 at this point. For all practical purposes, they are not flying their MiG-21, MiG-23, MiG-25, MiG-29 and SU-22/SU-24 aircraft at all. Why not? Because those aircraft require a lot of spare parts, a lot of maintenance, a lot of jet fuel."
The bulk of the Syrian Air Force's quality fighters are old -- about 30 years -- and expensive to fly. The degraded Syrian regime, Harner claimed, "just does not have the logistics, the talent, the manpower to keep them flyable."
"What they are flying are L-39 trainer aircraft which are lighter, less maintenance intensive, newer, but nowhere near as capable as the MiG and SU aircraft. All we really need to do to get a de facto no-fly zone is to destroy those aircraft," he argued.
That's one option.
But let's assume the United States insists on the more robust option of maintaining an actual no-fly zone over Syria. In Iraq, for example, the U.S. much of the air force intact on the ground opting to patrol the skies. How much would that cost?
According to Todd Harrison, senior fellow for defense budget studies at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA), it depends first on the size of the zone one's patrolling.
"The larger the area you cover," said Harrison, "the more aircraft you have to have covering it at any given moment. And the amount of time you have aircraft in the air patrolling are driving the cost."
Flight hours, he said, drive the cost "more than anything."
The no-fly zones over Iraq covered 104,600 square miles. And in addition to the size of the zone, Harrison calculated the distance U.S. fighters flew from regional bases. The northern watch operated out of Turkey; the southern leg out of Saudi Arabia. But the bigger cost factor there was the time spent in the air on patrol rather than flying time from the bases to the zones, he said.
In Iraq, the per-flight hour cost was tied to operational tempo -- the number and pace of sorties, which require fuel and manpower. The price ranged from roughly $7,000 per square mile in the less active years to $23,000 when sorties were at their highest.
One way to limit that cost is to shrink the zone, or to keep aircraft out of the zone but defend it from afar using standoff weapons that can shoot down intruders.
"It's a matter of do you want to control the airspace or deny them use of the air space. Control versus denial is the first question," he said. "Denial is easier and less and expensive. Control requires more resources."
Additionally, the number of allies and partner forces that join in the operation would drive down costs to U.S. taxpayers.
Harrison said that CSBA's extensive cost prediction for a no-fly zone over Libya gives some insight into what a Syrian mission would cost. CSBA calculated in March 2011 that a "limited no-fly zone" just for the 230,000 square miles of populated Libyan territory north of the 29th parallel would cost $30 million to $100 million per week, or for over six months, roughly $1billion to $3.5 billion.
But CSBA's prediction turned out to be two-thirds more expensive than the actual cost of the mission to the U.S. because two-third of the sorties ended up being flown by foreign aircraft -- yet another factor to consider.
By far, cruise missiles account for a large chunk of the total cost of any no-fly zone, no matter what comes next.
"A substantial cost of [the Libya] operation was incurred in the first week of that campaign," he said. There, on March 19, 2011, the United States began with bombs dropped from B-2 bombers flown from Missouri and launched 200 Tomahwawk cruise missiles.
So, on the back of the E-Ring's monogrammed napkin, we find that all of Syria is about 71,000 square miles, or 31 percent the size of the Libyan no-fly zone. That puts the cost to sustain a no-fly zone over all of Syria at about $9 million to $31 million per week.
But it's likely that the United States and its allies would only need to patrol a much small areas, so the cost should be even less.
"There isn't an easy -- or single -- answer," said Joint Chiefs of Staff spokesman Col. David Lapan, who added to the list of considerations the types of aircraft used, the amount of intelligence required, and Syria's response.
"And it's not about cost," he said. "It's about military objectives and decisions on options."
Photo by ACHILLEAS ZAVALLIS/AFP/Getty Images
The U.S. Army's top officer said that force readiness is "degrading significantly" enough that if President Barack Obama decides to put boots on the ground in Syria, soldiers may not be fully prepared for the job if they don't move out by the end of this summer.
Gen. Ray Odierno, Army chief of staff, said he believes the Free Syrian Army will prevail because the rebels have been able to win and hold territory.
"I kind of believe its not a matter of if, it's a matter of when," Odierno said of the FSA's chances to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
From a military perspective, Odierno did not offer advice to the rebels, which the U.S. support officially and with non-lethal aid, but said he was encouraged by what they've been able to accomplish against Syria's forces.
"I think from what I've seen is they have made some significant gains. I think they are controlling the territory. It makes you think that, you know, it's going to be difficult for the regime over time to survive," Odierno said, at a Defense Writers Group briefing with reporters in Washington, on Tuesday.
Odierno cautioned, however, that training cutbacks due to the sequester mean that, within months, the Army will be less prepared for a ground intervention.
"Its a matter of us having the dollars to make sure they are ready and trained to meet such a contingency in Syria."
"Readiness is OK right now, but it's degrading significantly because our training is reducing. So, the next three, four months, we probably have the capability to do it," he said, of a Syrian incursion. "Next year, it becomes a little bit more risky."
"If you ask me today, we have forces that can go. I think it will change over time because the longer we go cancelling training and reducing our training, the readiness levels go down."
When readiness falls, he warned, risk inevitably goes up.
"What is the risk? The risk is lives."
Odeirno said that while Pentagon continues to present President Obama options for Syria, including acting unilaterally or in an international coalition, he's more concerned about the future facing the region.
"What I worry about is the next day. So, when it happens, what happens the day after?" he said. "To me, that's important, what happens to Syria."
"Nothing happens independently in the Middle East. What's the impact on Israel? What's the impact on Lebanon? What's the impact on Jordan," he said, mentioning Iraq, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Iran, as well.
"If we don't get this right, what happens the day after ... could change the whole face of the Middle East, or it could go smoothly," he speculated. "How do we from an international coalition try to make this happen in such a way where we don't create incredible instability once Syria falls. That's what I worry about."
Add the use of chemical and biological weapons to his list of concerns.
"There's lots to worry about," Odierno said. "For me, it gets very, very messy."
There's one more layer to the Syria mess that complicates any outcome, said the Army chief: terrorists in the rebel ranks.
"With the rebels, we do know there's some terrorists in there," Odierno said. "Obviously, we don't want them to be involved in the outcome, we don't want them to gain power because of the impact they could have on the rest of the region -- regionally and then potentially internationally."
Photo by MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said on Thursday that the U.S. was rethinking its opposition to arming Syria's rebels, the first on-record acknowledgement by a senior Obama administration official that the president was considering that course.
"So you are rethinking -- the administration is rethinking its opposition to arming the rebels?" asked CNN's Barbara Starr, in a Pentagon press conference with Hagel and British Defense Secretary Philip Hammond.
"Yes," Hagel said, while stating repeatedly that the U.S. was rethinking all of its options.
The administration has revealed its deliberations over whether to arm Syria's rebels cautiously. Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey has said publicly for months he did not see a "good" military option in Syria, including arming rebels whose ranks include anti-Western terrorists. But he has also said that if the identity of some rebels can be verified he would support arming them.
"We have a responsibility, and I think Gen. Dempsey would say the same thing, to continue to evaluate options," Hagel said. "That doesn't mean that the president has decided on anything."
Hammond stressed the decision also depends on establishing international legal authority to act on evidence of chemical weapons use.
Hagel would not reveal if he favors arming the rebels and said he has not come to a conclusion on the question.
"We are exploring all options," he said.
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British Defense Secretary Philip Hammond said that Britain backs President Barack Obama's insistence on "conclusive" evidence that Syria used chemical weapons before moving forward with any military intervention.
The defense leader said on Thursday that Britain's physiological samples, which led them to declare that they believed sarin gas had been used in Syria, was "compelling but not conclusive" and did not meet courtroom-worthy standards required to muster international support for a military response.
"For that evidence to have any chance of being admitted in court, it would need to have been collected under controlled conditions, secured through a documented chain of custody to the point where it was tested," Hammond told a small group of defense reporters at the British Embassy in Washington. "We do not yet have samples that meet that standard of evidence."
The unknown chain of custody for that evidence, Hammond said, may impede a quick response. But while the evidence continues to be analyzed, Britain was pressing to build international legal support and authority for a military intervention, if needed. Short of that, London is already seeking legal alternatives to acting without United Nations approval, he said.
The purity of the evidence that Bashar al-Assad's forces employed chemical weapons is particularly important to convincing Russia to end their support for the regime and support a U.N. Security Council authorization of the use of force. It is also important for Arab allies in the region that likely would be called upon to join an international intervention.
For the British public, however, Hammond said the Iraq war looms large, fueling a nationwide skeptical streak about the prospect of going to war on inconclusive intelligence.
"We in the U.K. are particularly sensitive to this. There is a strong sense in U.K. public opinion that we went to war in Iraq on the back of evidence that proved not to be correct -- what in British political space is called ‘the dodgy dossier,'" he said, of the Bush administration's claim of Iraq's imminent use of weapons of mass destruction.
Hammond said he does not know what evidence the United States may possess in addition to what Britain has shared, but that he would discuss it with U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel at the Pentagon, later on Thursday.
"I don't think there is a gap between us," Hammond said of the evidence. "I think we're now in a place where we both recognize that there is compelling but not conclusive evidence that chemical weapons have been used."
"We need hard evidence. The kind of evidence that would be admissible in court," about what, when, where, and by whom, said Hammond. "We don't yet have evidence that would pass our own legal systems tests."
In the meantime, Britain will continue to pressure the Syrian regime to allow in U.N. inspectors to establish "definitively" if chemical weapons had been used. [The team, however, has a goal to determine if chemicals were used, not necessarily the custody chain.
Hammond showed no movement toward providing direct lethal aid to the Syrian rebels.
"No decision to provide lethal aid has yet been made," he said. No options are off the table, either, but Britain is giving all it can, he said.
"We are currently providing support to the [rebels] right up to the maximum level that we can without crossing the line into lethal aid." Britain most recently provided armored 4x4 vehicles, body armor, and night vision goggles.
Hammond also defended Obama's "red line" over the use of chemical weapons and the international community's right to deliberate over a larger military intervention in Syria. An estimated 70,000 Syrians already have died in conventional fighting.
"Use of chemical weapons is specifically illegal under international law. It is a war crime, and therefore it takes the level of culpability of the regime to a new level. It crosses a new threshold."
If the U.N. is unable to pass a resolution, Britain is preparing other legal frameworks to act on its own, if needed.
"We are exploring other options under British interpretation of international law, under the doctrine of humanitarian necessity, which may allow us scope to act," he said. That unilateral determination was Britain's justification for military action in Bosnia, he said.
Hammond reiterated that due to sensitivities of "the neighborhood" and Russia, Middle Eastern countries must take a role in any military response, as well as in helping crafting a political future for a Syrian opposition that the West can support.
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Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. predicted on Sunday that a U.S. war with Iran would occur if President Obama does not act on Syria, now that is believed Bashar al-Assad has used chemical weapons.
Graham's assertion was one of the boldest among several top lawmakers on defense and intelligence committees who presented widely varying views on Sunday talk shows of what President Obama should do in Syria.
Graham, one of the most outspoken advocates for military intervention in Syria, made the prediction on CBS's "Face the Nation." Besides war, Graham said that without outside help for Syria's rebels, the result will be a failed state that is safe haven for al Qaida, loose chemical weapons, and a post-conflict flood of millions of refugees into neighboring Jordan.
"The longer this goes, the more likely you have a failed state and all hell's going to break loose in the region," Graham said. "It's a disaster for the region. It's going to be a disaster for the world."
The Obama administration has reacted cautiously to its own intelligence assessments that Assad may have twice deployed sarin gas, a move that President Obama said would cross a "red line."
With U.S. allies publicly claiming they believe the gas was used, and senators demanding a yes or no answer, the White House revealed the U.S. intelligence community's suspicions last week, but said it would draw its own conclusions about the evidence and talk with the international community before taking any action.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., Sen John McCain, R-Ariz., and Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., all pressured the White House to reveal whether it believed Assad already had used chemical weapons.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Mich. said, "Some action needs to be taken." Rogers said on ABC's "This Week" that classified information "strengthens the case" that Syrian did use chemical weapons.
Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., however, argued that President Obama should be given leeway so that the United States can finish its own assessment before responding. "I appreciate his deliberative approach."
Graham, who has called for military intervention for months, advocated arming "the right" rebels and striking the Syrian air force with cruise missiles from afar.
"If you could neutralize the air advantage the Syrian government has over the rebels, I think you could turn the tide of battle pretty quickly," he said.
Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill, of Missouri, argued the administration was busy consulting with Russia and other countries about Syria. "The president met with the king of Jordan this week. The secretary of state is busy with all of our allies in the area trying to get help in figuring out what we can do surgically that will get the result we want without making the problem even worse."
"We've got 70,000 dead people in that part of the world as a result of Bashar al-Assad," said Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Miss. "We as America have never let something like that happen before. We've taken action. Now, I don't have the answer, I doubt Claire does, as to exactly what we ought to do but the world is truly watching America right now."
Chambliss said he spoke with Jordan's King Abdullah this week, arguing the United States could strike air defenses in order "to enable" Syria's neighbors to help.
"I don't think we're at that point right now, but
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White House officials notified Congress today that the U.S. believes Syria used sarin gas on its own people, crossing President Obama's "red line" in a potentially game changing acknowledgement that could draw the U.S. into the Syrian civil war.
"It violates every convention of warfare," Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said, in making the announcement public on Thursday, while visiting the United Arab Emirates.
The announcement comes days after an Israeli general during Hagel's visit earlier this week declared that Syria had used chemical weapons, which followed similar declarations from Britain and France. Hagel and U.S. officials, put on the spot, previously said U.S. intelligence was inconclusive.
"As I have said, the intelligence community has been assessing information for some time on this issue, and the decision to reach this conclusion was made in the past 24 hours," Hagel said, "and I have been in contact with senior officials in Washington today and most recently the last couple of hours on this issue."
"We cannot confirm the origin of these weapons, but we do believe that any use of chemical weapons in Syria would very likely have originated with the Assad regime."
Miguel Rodriguez, director of the Office of Legislative Affairs, in a letter to Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., wrote, "Our intelligence community does assess with varying degrees of confidence that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons on a small scale in Syria, specifically the chemical agent sarin."
Rodriguez cautioned that President Obama would require further investigation of the evidence before deciding how to react, but said the U.S. remains "prepared for all contingencies" to respond to any "confirmed" use of chemical weapons.
A senior administration official briefing reporters in the afternoon would not say what President Obama would do, if the U.S. confirms Syria's use of chemical weapons to its own higher "standard of evidence."
"I don't want to get into those hypotheticals at this juncture," the official said.
But Rodriguez, in the letter to Congress, wrote, "No option is off the table."
"However, precisely because the president takes this issue so seriously, we have an obligation to fully investigate any and all evidence of chemical weapons use within Syria," he wrote. "Given the stakes involved, and what we have learned form our own recent experience, intelligence assessments alone are not sufficient -- only credible corroborated facts that provide us with some degree of certainty will guide our decision-making, and strengthen our leadership of the international community."
The White House said the assessment was made from "physiological samples," but cautioned "we cannot confirm how the exposure occurred and under what conditons."
On Wednesday, McCain sent a letter to Obama demanding a straight, and public, answer on Syria's chemical weapons use, co-signed by Sens. Carl Levin, D-Mich., Bob Corker, R-Tenn., Bob Menendez, D-N.J., Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga, Bob Casey, D-Penn., Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H.
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DOD photo by Glenn Fawcett
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Kevin Baron reports on the people and policies driving the Pentagon and the national security establishment in The E-Ring.