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Chuck Hagel: Capacity Building Central to Syria Strategy

June 27, 2013

In an effort to help prevent the violence in Syria from spreading to its neighbors, the Defense Department is focusing on building partner capacity in the region, Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said today during a joint Pentagon news conference with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.

“Militarily, what we're doing is assisting our partners in the region, the neighbors of Syria, to ensure that they're prepared to account for the potential spillover effects,” Dempsey said.

As part of these efforts, the U.S. will leave some Patriot missile batteries and some F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft in Jordan and is working with its Iraqi counterparts, the Lebanese armed forces, and Turkey through NATO, the chairman said.

“And we've made a recommendation that, as we look at the challenges faced by the Lebanese armed forces, the Iraqi security forces with a re-emerging Al-Qaida in Iraq, and the Jordanians, that we would work with them to help them build additional capability,” he added.

The assistance would take the form of training teams or accelerated foreign military sales of equipment, the chairman said.

“This is about building their capability, not ours,” he added.

These actions are in addition to the recent decision to provide military aid to opponents of the Assad regime, Dempsey said.

The defense secretary acknowledged that delivering the military aid raises a number of challenges.

“The opposition represents many different groups,” Hagel said. “And we will always be and have to be assured that assistance we give to the Syrian military council gets to the right people, and that isn't a decision that can be answered quickly. It's a constant process of assessment.”

One option under consideration, a no-fly zone, would be difficult to impose, the chairman told reporters.

“My concern has been that ensuring that Syria's airplanes don't fly addresses about 10 percent of the problem, in terms of the casualties that are taken in Syria,” Dempsey said.

“The Syrian air defense system is sophisticated and it's dense,” he noted, adding that implementing a no-fly zone is essentially an act of war.

“I'd like to understand the plan to make peace before we start a war,” Dempsey said. But, he added, if the decision is made to impose a no-fly zone, “we’ll make it happen.”

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