White House won't rule out no-fly zones in Syria

"United States government always looks at situations and looks at what types of scenarios might unfold, and then, accordingly, looks at what types of contingency plans might be available to deal with certain circumstances," White House counterterrorism chief John Brennan said on Tuesday on the possibility of creating no-fly zones in northern Syria. 

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Brennan's comments come as rebel fighters looking to topple Syrian President Bashar Assad are slowly gaining ground in the north, concentrating their forces in the city of Aleppo. 

However, government troops loyal to the Assad regime have been mercilessly hammering rebel positions inside Aleppo over the past few weeks, zeroing in on anti-Assad forces with attack helicopters and fighter jets. 

The fierce fighting in Aleppo and across Syria has only heightened calls for military action against the Assad regime. Using American and allied airpower to set up no-fly zones have long been championed by some members of Congress, led by Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.).

McCain, Lieberman and others have claimed the United States and the international community must take action to help oust Assad from power in the same way American and coalition forces supported rebel forces in Libya last March. 

However, on Tuesday, Brennan noted there were stark differences between the circumstances surrounding the Libyan operation and proposed action in Syria. 

Administration officials have been "quite busy making sure that we're able to do everything possible that's going to advance the interests of peace in Syria and not, again, do anything that's going to contribute to more violence," Brennan said. 

That said, President Obama has authorized the CIA and other government agencies to provide support for the Syrian rebels, according to a classified presidential finding granting intelligence support to rebels that was leaked to the media earlier this month. 

The finding could pave the way for U.S. participation in a covert command center along the Turkey-Syria border to facilitate communications and intelligence support to Syrian rebels. 

The command center would be under the control of Ankara and its allies and located 60 miles from the Syrian border, near the U.S. Air Force base in Incirlik, according to recent news reports. 

Brennan did not comment on the presidential finding or other actions, covert or otherwise, being taken by the United States in Syria. But he did note that high-level conversations continue to take place on both sides of the Potomac on what the next steps to take in the country. 

"Various options that are being talked about ... are things that the United States government has been looking at very carefully, trying to understand the implications, trying to understand the advantages and disadvantages of this," Brennan said. 

When asked if leveraging American airpower to set up no-fly zones in northern Syria was a non-starter, Brennan replied: "I don't recall the president ever saying that anything was off the table."

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