Gen. Mattis: Iran, Al Qaeda Involved in Syria Violence

A U.S. general clashed with Sen. John McCain over assessment of U.S. plans for Syria.

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Despite Syria receiving military assistance from Iran, the White House says it will not get involved in a military mission due to al Qaeda involvement in the country's civil war.

Syria's already robust military has been further strengthened by air defense systems, intelligence gathering tools and communications equipment provided by Iran, Central Command chief Gen. James Mattis told a group of senators Tuesday.

Arizona Sen. John McCain, the ranking member on the Senate Armed Services Committee, made clear during the hearing he disagrees with the assessment that al Qaeda is helping Syria's oppositional forces.

[See pictures of the violence in Syria.]

McCain, one of the leading congressional proponents of military action in Syria, was animated and red-faced when talking about meeting Syrian opposition members.

"They are not al Qaeda!" McCain fumed Tuesday.

Furthermore, President Barack Obama has yet to request plans for an American military mission in Syria from U.S. Central Command.

"I have not been directed to do detailed planning," Gen. Mattis told lawmakers Tuesday.

[Santorum: We Will Tear Down Iranian Nuclear Facilities.]

If Washington decides to get involved, Mattis said, a "significant commitment of resources" would be required.

Former military officials and defense analysts say an intervention based on the kinds of naval and air strikes used in Libya would be harder to accomplish in Syria because the population is tightly packed, and air strikes aimed at regime forces would also kill many civilians, analysts say.

Another challenge would come from Syria's landscape, which lacks suitable terrain from which U.S. forces could distribute military and humanitarian aid to opposition forces, Mattis said. Mountain range, which Syria lacks, would provide a natural buffer between a distribution point and regime forces.

Obama administration officials revealed last week they have ruled out a military mission in Syria.

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