Syria no-fly zone a possibility says Clapper

The creation of a no-fly zone, either along the Turkish or Jordanian border with Syria, is a "possibility" for the Obama administration, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told lawmakers. 

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Certainly ... as the [Syrian] opposition gains control of sufficient geography on the ground, then that's a possibility," Clapper told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday. 

Clapper's comments come days after Defense Secretary Chuck HagelCharles (Chuck) Timothy HagelVoices grow in condemnation of Trump's military response to protests Murkowski, Mattis criticism ratchets up pressure on GOP over Trump More than 100 national security professionals urge Trump to invoke Defense Production Act MORE "had a long conversation with the president" on U.S. options in Syria at the White House, committee chairman Sen. Carl LevinCarl Milton LevinSenator Tom Coburn's government oversight legacy The Trumpification of the federal courts Global health is the last bastion of bipartisan foreign policy MORE (D-Mich.) said Wednesday. 

That same day, Hagel announced plans to deploy an Army headquarters unit to neighboring Jordan, to help that country's military defend its shared border with Syria. 

Those moves, according to Levin, were a clear sign President Obama is preparing to ramp up U.S. military pressure on the Assad regime. 

"Something is happening, something is going on," Levin said after Wednesday's Senate committee hearing on the situation in Syria. 

That military pressure could result in the creation of the no-fly zone or additional deployments of Patriot missile systems in Turkey or Jordan, Levin said at the time. 

While Clapper refused to go into details regarding his conversations on Syria with the White House, his comments on Thursday seem to indicate the administration is leaning toward the no-fly zone option. 

"I was pleased with it," committee ranking member Sen. James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeMinority caucuses call for quick action on police reform Calls for police reform sparks divisions in Congress Bipartisan Senate panel leaders back fund to deter China MORE (R-Okla.) told the Hill after Thursday's hearing, noting he was somewhat surprised with Clapper's comments. 

The notion of a no-fly zone near Syria has gained traction among Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill in recent months. 

Levin joined Senate Republicans John McCainJohn Sidney McCainKelly holds double-digit lead over McSally in Arizona: poll Montana barrels toward blockbuster Senate fight How Obama just endorsed Trump MORE (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamBill aims to help farmers sell carbon credits Graham postpones Russia probe subpoena vote as tensions boil over Graham pushes back on Mattis criticism of Trump: 'You're missing something here, my friend' MORE (R-S.C.), in supporting a no-fly zone on the Turkey-Syria border. 

The Senate lawmakers have also called for sending U.S. warplanes to Syria to take out Assad's heavy weapons and directly arming the Syrian rebels. 

Publicly, the White House remains committed to its strategy of economic and diplomatic sanctions to force a regime change in Syria. 

But on Wednesday, Hagel admitted the White House's strategy "hasn't achieved the objective" of removing Assad from power. 

That said, Clapper warned the creation of a no-fly zone near Syria could pose a dangerous challenge to U.S. forces assigned to defend the zone from Assad's troops.  

"Doing a no-fly zone, even a partial one, is not a trivial undertaking," according to the intelligence chief. 

Assad's sophisticated network of anti-aircraft and air defense weapons would pose a serious challenge to American and allied warplanes patrolling the possible no-fly zone, he added. 

"So a no-fly zone would not be without costs," Clapper warned.