The Obama administration announced today it will provide military assistance to Syrian rebels, but that does not include a no-fly zone, an administration official said.
Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said the U.S. will send military assistance to the rebels, and it is weighing possible military responses. A no-fly zone is part of a “range of options” being considered, but it will not happen now and may not be the best way to assist rebels, he said.
“A no-fly zone would carry with it great and open-ended costs for the U.S. and international community,” Rhodes said in a conference call with reporters.
Earlier today, the Wall Street Journal reported the military had drawn up plans for a limited no-fly zone from Jordan territory to help train and equip rebel forces. This came as the White House announced it has confirmed President Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons against Syrian citizens multiple times.
Maintaining a no-fly zone over Syria would be more complex than it was in Libya, and it is not known how effective it could be to help rebels involved in ground war with forces loyal to al-Assad, Rhodes said, adding the administration will work with other countries on possible routes forward.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., took to the Senate floor shortly before the White House announcement to praise the move to aid the rebels, and said a no-fly zone would help to “change the equation on the battle field.”
Thirteen Air Force combat-coded squadrons have been grounded or will be when they return from deployments. Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh said at a May 24 news briefing that “our readiness continues to decline, even while calls for potential no-fly zone or air policing operations in response to Syrian violence are reaching a new crescendo.”
Welsh said he was concerned about unexpected contingencies that have not been budgeted. “New contingencies could be a problem for us, especially the longer this goes and the less training our people have compared to what we would normally require of them to be fully combat ready.”
McCain said it would not be acceptable for the military to be unable to handle the operations in a “third-rate” country such as Syria.
“We spend tens of millions a year on defense, and if our military cannot establish a no-fly zone, then by God, American tax payer dollars have been wasted,” he said.
Earlier this month, F-16C/Ds from the Colorado Air National Guard’s 140th Wing went to Jordan for Operation Eager Lion, along with an Army Patriot missile battery. The plan is for the F-16s to stay in Jordan until the end of the exercise, unless the Jordanian government requests they stay.
“We will continue to consult closely with the government of Jordan on their security needs in light of the Syrian crisis,” Defense Department spokesman Lt. Col. Jack Miller said last week. “If requested by the government of Jordan, we will consider extending the deployment of Jordan, we will consider extending the deployment of the F-16s and Patriot battery associated with Eager Lion.”