Pentagon planning for Syria on hold, pending White House decision

"I can't do that," the four-star general said Thursday, when asked what it would take, militarily, to stop the killing of innocent civilians in Syria by forces loyal to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. 

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"The military typically takes the information presented and an outcome. I have to know what the outcome is. So you tell me what the outcome is, I can build you a plan to achieve that outcome," he told reporters at the Pentagon. 

"Anything at this point vis-a-vis Syria would be hypothetical in the extreme, and I can't build that plan unless I understand the outcome," the four-star general said. 

The Obama administration remains dedicated to reaching a diplomatic solution to end the violence in Syria. 

That said, the closest to Pentagon has come to any military planning for Syria is providing a "commanders' estimate level of detail," Dempsey told Congress in March. 

That effort did not consist of "detailed planning" and has not been briefed to the President, the four-star general said at the time. "The next step would be to take whatever options we deem to be feasible into the next level of planning," the four-star general added. 

"Gen. Dempsey has testified before Congress, and reiterated in several interviews, that our military role is to conduct planning and provide options to the Secretary of Defense and President when requested," Dempsey's spokesman Col. David Lapan said on Friday.

"Until we are given specific direction to plan for particular scenarios [in Syria], we don't conduct additional detailed planning," Lapan said. 

Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) hammered President Obama for that seeming lack of direction of what to do in Syria on the Senate floor on Thursday. 

Administration officials continue to offer "empty words of scorn and condemnation ... hollow pledges that the killing must stop [and] more strained expressions of amazement at what has become so tragically commonplace," McCain said of the violent oppression of anti-government forces by Syrian President Bashar Assad. 

Both lawmakers have led the block of congressional Republicans calling for U.S. arms shipments to Syrian rebels and for U.S. warplanes to provide air support to those forces. 

Those calls have increased in the wake of the mass slaughter of over 100 Syrian civilians by pro-Assad forces in the village of Houla last month. 

The attack was yet another sign that a peace deal brokered by U.S.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan has failed. 

White House spokesman Jay Carney said on Thursday the administration has begun to lose faith in the Annan peace deal, even though "there are elements of the Annan plan that have helped make the world more aware of Assad's brutality."

That awareness, according to Carney is "an important step towards bringing the international community together ... helping create a sturdier foundation for a political transition when that transition continues."

For his part, Dempsey acknowledged White House efforts to oust Assad via diplomatic means "is moving at a pace that is slower than we [or] anyone would want." 

"The pressures that are being brought to bear [against Assad]  are simply not having the effect I think that we intend," he added. 

That said, the general was adamant that neither he or the Pentagon were ready to forgo diplomatic efforts and focus squarely on military action to remove Assad. 

"I'm not prepared to advocate that we abandon that track at this point," he said. 

--Story was corrected at 2:22pm to accurately reflect comments made by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey