Note Secretary of StateJohn Kerry stumbled over the issue of “boots on the ground” in hearings today, indicating the administration may need the option, than backing off in a confusing and unclear way. Was his stumble related to the information discussed below?
US general says Syria action could be ‘more substantial than thought’
A former US army chief has claimed that Barack Obama is eyeing intervention in Syria that would go beyond a mere deterrent against chemical weapons to damage the military capacity of the Assad regime.
General Jack Keane, a former vice chief of staff of the US Army, told BBC Radio 4 that he had spoken to senior Republican senators who had been briefed by the US president on Monday, and had been assured that Mr Obama planned to do significant damage to the forces of Bashar al-Assad.
The Obama administration has previously said that military strikes would not be aimed at toppling Assad’s government nor altering the balance of the conflict. Instead, the White House has suggested, they would be intended to punish Assad for the alleged gas attack in Damascus on Aug 21 and to reinstate Washington’s “red line” against the use of chemical weapons.
But Gen. Keane said he understood Mr Obama was planning a more substantial intervention in Syria than had previously been thought, with increased support for the opposition forces, including training from US troops.
He said the plans could involve “much more substance than we were led to believe”.
After speaking to Republican senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, who attended the briefing with Mr Obama, Gen. Keane said: “What he won’t do is topple the regime. There’s a distinction here.
“What he has told the two senators is that he also intends to assist the opposition forces, so he is going to degrade Assad’s military capacity and he is going to assist and upgrade the opposition forces with training assistance.”
Gen. Keane said any training would probably be done in neighbouring Jordan rather than in Syria itself.
The US general, who retired in 2003, attributed Mr Obama’s surprise decision to seek congressional support for intervention to David Cameron’s “humiliating defeat” in the Commons.
He said the US would “much rather” have British backing for any strikes against Bashar Assad’s regime.
Gen. Keane explained: “We operate side by side with the UK and we know who our closest ally is. We certainly would much rather do this with the UK side by side, that’s how the military feels, I really think the leaders of the country feel.
“I think, if I may use some rich language here, the humiliating defeat the Prime Minister suffered in Parliament, I can only surmise was stunning to the President and I think it impacted on him.
“I think that’s one of the motivations that introduced what I call palpable fear and one of the reasons why he is seeking political cover himself.”