Dempsey sent a letter afterward saying the establishment of a no-fly zone to protect the Syrian rebels would require hundreds of U.S. aircraft, cost as much as $1 billion a month and offer no assurance of changing the war's momentum. He also discouraged training of rebel groups, limited strikes on Syria's air defenses or creating a buffer zone for the opposition, citing the high costs involved and risks such as lost U.S. aircraft.
Engel, an advocate of more forceful U.S. action, proposed the use of cruise missiles and other weapons against Syrian government-controlled air bases in an Aug. 5 letter to Dempsey. The congressman said strikes could ground Assad's air force and reduce weapons flow to his government from Iran and Russia, while costing less to U.S. taxpayers and requiring no American troops in Syrian territory or airspace.
Dempsey said this approach wouldn't tip the balance against Assad and wouldn't solve the deeper problems plaguing Syria.
"The loss of Assad's air force would negate his ability to attack opposition forces from the air, but it would also escalate and potentially further commit the United States to the conflict," Dempsey said. "It would not be militarily decisive, but it would commit us decisively to the conflict."
Instead, he spoke in favor of an expansion of the Obama administration's current policy.
The U.S. can provide far greater humanitarian assistance and, if asked, do more to bolster a moderate opposition in Syria. Such an approach "represents the best framework for an effective U.S. strategy toward Syria," Dempsey said.
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