Kerry clashes with Pentagon over Syria

 

Secretary of State John Kerry has been clashing with senior military leaders over U.S. strategy in Syria, The Wall Street Journal reported late Monday.

Kerry and United Nations Ambassador Samantha Power have laid out several options to intervene in Syria’s civil war, according to senior officials who spoke to the WSJ.

Their proposals include the use of military intervention to weaken President Bashar Assad’s regime. They've also suggested sending in U.S. special operations forces to train Syrian rebels.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Martin Dempsey, however, have opposed the idea of military intervention, the report said. 

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"If it weren't for the chairman, you would be right back in Iraq or Afghanistan," a senior defense official told the WSJ

Hagel and Dempsey agreed to expanding how the U.S. helps the rebels, but convinced Kerry that the training should be delayed. Officials are concerned that if rebels were trained now, Assad could stop removing Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile. 

President Obama’s top national security advisers have supported the training proposal, a senior administration official told the WSJ, but Obama’s position remains unclear.

Republicans on Capitol Hill including Sens. Bob Corker (Tenn.) and John McCain (Ariz.) have strongly criticized Obama in recent weeks for not having a clear and forceful strategy regarding Syria.

This comes more than seven months after Obama had threatened to launch a military strike on Syria after more than 1,400 people died in a nerve gas attack in a suburb of Damascus. 

Obama backed down on that threat after Russia helped broker a deal that requires Syria to remove and destroy its chemical weapons arsenal. As of late March, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said Syria has removed just over half of that stockpile.