US forces are ready to implement a no-fly zone in Syria if it is asked to do so, but it would be difficult because the Syrian air defence system is sophisticated and dense, a top Pentagon official said.

“A no-fly zone is just one option of many that we have analysed and prepared. It will be difficult because the Syrian air defence system is sophisticated and it’s dense,” said Gen Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff with the US Defence Secretary, Chuck Hagel present with him.

“As I’ve said many times, if that is a decision that the nation takes, that we want to impose a no-fly zone, we’ll make it happen.

“We can do that with a combination of stand-off munitions, electronic jamming, long-range attack and close-air attack. We can, if asked to do so, establish a no-fly zone,” he said.

“My concern has been ensuring that Syria’s airplanes don’t fly, addresses about 10 per cent of the problem in terms of the casualties that are taken in Syria,” he added.

“If we choose to conduct a no-fly zone, it’s essential an act of war, and I’d like to understand the plan to make peace before we start a war,” said Dempsey.

Responding to a question on arming the rebels, Hagel said the US will always have to be assured that assistance it gives to the Syrian Military Council gets to the right people.

“That isn’t a decision that can be answered quickly. It’s a constant process of assessment that still remains part of the overall objective in what we’re trying to do,” he said.

“We support what the decision is and what the President decided to do,” he said.

Hagel, however, ruled out a direct US military involvement in Syria.

“We’re at a place right now where while the regime has indicated sure, we want to have some sort of discussion or some sort of talk,” said Patrick Ventrell, spokesperson of the US State Department.

“They haven’t been serious about understanding that this has to be people coming to the table who are focused on protecting the rights of all Syrians and providing for a transitional Government that will be a Government for all Syrians and all Syrian citizens,” he said.

He added that the US wants the Syrian opposition to sort out their leadership issue.

“We want them to sort out their leadership issues. We want them to have a broad representative moderate grouping who can represent the rights of all Syrians as they go into the important process” he said.

And both sides will need to have representatives who are focused on the future of Syria and all Syrian citizens,” Ventrell added.

(This article was published on June 27, 2013)
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