U.S. Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey told the Senate on Wednesday that President Obama wants the Pentagon to provide him with military options on Syria.
The general told the Senate Armed Services Committee the Pentagon was preparing options, including humanitarian airlifts, naval and aerial surveillance, and a no-fly zone, The New York Times reported.
However, both Dempsey and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the administration is still hopeful diplomatic and economic channels are the best way to handle the crisis in the Middle Eastern country.
"There are limitations of military force, especially with U.S. boots on the ground," Panetta said, adding U.S. military intervention could [inflame] a Syrian civil war.
Dempsey said Syria is not Libya, and while the Pentagon "can do anything," he warned Syria's air defenses are five times stronger than those of Libya, where U.S.-led forces enacted a no-fly zone that led to the fall of Moammar Gadhafi last year.
U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., Monday advocated strongly for military intervention in Syria, saying airstrikes are the "only realistic way" to stop the carnage that has killed more than 7,500 civilians by U.N. estimates.
Dempsey and Panetta warned civilian causalities would be inevitable in any air campaign because Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces are interwoven with the general population.
"There are no simple answers," Panetta said. "The result is a great deal of anger and frustration that we all share."
Both officials cited a splintered opposition and military aid to Syria from Iran and Russia as complicating factors, The Washington Post reported.
Obama has said Assad's fall is a matter of "when, not if." Panetta echoed that sentiment Wednesday, adding Iran will be the biggest loser when that happens.
"Syria is a pivotal country for Iran," Panetta said. "Syria is Iran's only state ally in the region and is crucial to Iran's efforts to support those militants throughout the region who threaten Israel and threaten regional stability."
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