Key Dem presses Joint Chiefs chairman for more Syria military options

The top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee is the latest lawmaker to express dissatisfaction with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempey’s assessment of potential military options in Syria.

Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) sent a letter to Dempsey released Monday that asked for a more detailed analysis of limited strikes to take out Syria’s air defenses.

Engel took issue with Dempsey’s assessment, sent to Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl LevinCarl Milton LevinListen, learn and lead: Congressional newcomers should leave the extremist tactics at home House Democrats poised to set a dangerous precedent with president’s tax returns The Hill's 12:30 Report — Sponsored by Delta Air Lines — White House to 'temporarily reinstate' Acosta's press pass after judge issues order | Graham to take over Judiciary panel | Hand recount for Florida Senate race MORE (D-Mich.) last month, where the top U.S. military official said that limited stand-off strikes would require “hundreds of aircraft, ships, submarines and other enablers” and that the cost would be in the billions.

Engel questioned whether a more limited option was available.

“While I do not profess to be a military expert, it is clear that this analysis does not fully reflect an even more limited option that some have advocated, which would involve cruise missile or other stand-off weapon strikes on regime-controlled air bases,” Engel wrote.

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“It stands to reason that this even more limited stand-off strike option would come at lower cost to taxpayers than the options outlined in your letter, and could be accomplished with fewer military assets. Most importantly, it would not involve putting any U.S. boots on the ground or in Syrian airspace,” he said.

Engel’s letter follows harsh criticism of Dempsey over Syria from Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainIf you don't think illegal immigrants are voting for president, think again 10 factors making Russia election interference the most enduring scandal of the Obama era Earth Day founder's daughter: Most Republican leaders believe in climate change in private MORE (R-Ariz.), who had briefly threatened to hold up the chairman's confirmation last month.

Dempsey and McCain sparred about U.S. intervention in Syria during Dempsey’s confirmation hearing, as McCain was angry that the top general wouldn’t give his personal opinion about potential U.S. intervention.

Dempsey’s letter to Levin was sent after the hearing as a way to address McCain’s concerns. After McCain dropped his threat of a hold — though not his criticism of Dempsey — the Joint Chiefs chairman was confirmed for a second two-year term last week.

Eliot has been one of the most vocal Democrats advocating for the Obama administration to do more in the two-year Syrian civil war. He introduced a bill in February calling for the administration to arm the Syrian rebels.