Strikes to degrade Syria’s military capabilities, Congress told


WASHINGTON: The US military chief told a congressional committee on Tuesday that US strikes on Syria would degrade the Syrian government’s overall military capabilities, besides causing other collateral consequences. “Yes,” said Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen Martin E. Dempsey when asked if US military strikes would have other “collateral consequences for the Syrian government, including the degradation of its overall military capabilities”.

Chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relation Senator Robert Menendez, who asked this question, also asked him to define the objectives of the planned US military action against Syria.

“To change the regime’s calculus about using chemical weapons, and degrade his deployment and other capabilities.”

Gen Dempsey said that once the US completed degrading the Syrian government’s capability to use chemical weapons, “we would probably return (considering) to what we might do with a moderate opposition”.Asked if he backed providing further support to the Syrian opposition, the military chief said: “Yes, I do.”

On Tuesday afternoon, the US Congress began an early hearing on President Barack Obama’s request for using military force in Syria hours after he held a key meeting with senior lawmakers at the White House.

“We have convened … to make one of the most difficult decisions we are tasked to make: the authorisation of the use of American military power — this time in Syria,” said Chairman of the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relation Senator Robert Menendez as he inaugurated the hearing.

Senator Bob Corker, the ranking Republican on the Committee, said he and his colleagues were willing to approve the president’s request if the administration agreed to go beyond punishing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for allegedly using chemical weapons on his own civilians on Aug 21.

“I want to see us continue to carry out a strategy; building the capacity of a valid, moderate opposition, how the use of military force supports that strategy,” he said.

“I do not take our responsibility to authorise military force lightly, or make such decisions easily. I voted against the war in Iraq and strongly support the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan,” said Senator Menendez. “But today I support the President’s decision to use military force in the face of this horrific crime against humanity.”

While urging members of his committee to vote for the motion, Mr Menendez reminded them that 1,429 Syrians, including at least 426 children, were killed in the Aug 21 attack.

Responding to Senator Corker’s concerns, Secretary of State John Kerry said that destroying Syria’s capability to use chemical weapons, also sent a message that President “Assad must go.”

It also will help convince the Syrian leader that “he cannot gas or shoot his way out of this predicament,” he said. The inaction will send Mr Assad another message that “he has been granted impunity, to use these weapons against more people with greater damage, he added.

Secretary Kerry also addressed the concern that attacking Syria might have dangerous consequences for the US. “If Assad is arrogant and foolish enough to retaliate to the consequences of his own activities, the US and its allies have resources enough to make him regret without going to war against him,” he warned.

When a protester got up and shouted her opinion against leading the US to yet another war, Secretary Kerry said he also had protested against the Vietnam war when he was 27 and understood how that person felt. “We all can respect those who have a different point of view and we do,” he said.

US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel told the committee that the US should take action against Syria because of what the Assad government had done. “Risk of chemical weapons proliferation sends a direct threat to the US and its allies,” he warned.

Mr Hagel said the US forces were ready to act whenever President Obama gave the order to do so. Refusing to act against Syria “will undermine the utility of other American commitments”, he warned.