The U.S. Army's top general says the chances of victory for rebel fighters in Syria is "not a matter of 'If,' it's a matter of 'When.'"
Gen. Ray Odierno, the Army chief of staff who forged the last decade of his career as the top general in Iraq, told reporters at a breakfast meeting on Tuesday that significant gains made by the opposition fighters spell the end for the regime under Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
He remains concerned, however, over how international forces intervene to prevent the post-Assad Syria from becoming a cancer of instability that spreads throughout the Middle East.
"From what I've seen, they have made some significant gains," Odierno said of the rebel fighters. "Their controlling the territory makes you think it's going to be difficult for the regime over time to survive."
"What I worry about is the next day. So when it happens, what happens the day after? To me, that's what's important."
Chaos in Syria – combined with the growing presence of Islamic extremists among the factions of opposition fighters – could lead to instability in neighboring Israel, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq, Jordan or in Iran.
"If we don't get this right, what happens the day after could change the whole face of the Middle East," he said. "How do we from an international coalition try to make this happen in such a way that we don't create incredible instability once Syria falls?"
Military planners have been tight lipped about potential U.S. intervention, repeatedly saying they are providing President Barack Obama with options. The Pentagon deployed between 1,000 and 1,500 troops to Jordan to help train local troops and to contain the threat of chemical weapons at the Syrian border. They also assist in "command and control" function.
Odierno says sequestration cuts to training have put an expiration date on the options he could provide.
"Readiness is OK right now, but it's degrading significantly because our training is reducing," he said. The U.S. Army would have the capability for a presence in Syria for the next three or four months, but "next year becomes a little more risky because our readiness is lower."