Joint Chiefs of Staff head lays out risks of Syrian action

In a letter to the Senate Armed Services Committee, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, warned that U.S. military action in Syria would cost “in the billions” and would require “hundreds of aircraft, ships, submarines and other enablers.”

In the July 23 letter, addressed to committee chair Sen. Carl Levin, Dempsey detailed the costs and logistics of two courses of action the U.S. might take to oppose Syrian President Bashar Assad.

An indirect effort to train opposition forces, he wrote, would involve sending hundreds or thousands of forces and cost around half a billion dollars.

A direct course of action, Dempsey wrote, would be efficient only if a large force of “enablers” as well as air and sea craft were deployed, costing “in the billions.”

In response to Republican demands that the U.S. enforce no-fly zones over certain areas in Syria in a bid to prevent Assad’s forces from bombing densely populated rebel-controlled areas, Dempsey estimated the move would cost the U.S. around a billion dollars a month.

That also would be the cost of forming a U.S.-protected refugee area, which would be manned and guarded by hundreds of U.S. troops.

Despite his reservations, Dempsey said, “All of these options would likely further the narrow military objective of helping the opposition and placing more pressure on the regime.”

He nonetheless warned, “Once we take action, we should be prepared for what comes next. Deeper involvement is hard to avoid.”

Any military intervention or use of force “is no less than an act of war,” Dempsey said, adding that the U.S. “could inadvertently empower extremists or unleash the very chemical weapons we seek to control.” —