U.S. Action Against Syria Will Have 'Some Teeth,' Includes Arming the Rebels

September 4, 2013 - 7:48 AM

Carl Levin-Syria

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich. walks from the West Wing of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2013, to speak with reporters following a meeting between President Barack Obama and Congressional leaders discuss the situation in Syria. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

(CNSNews.com) - Emerging from a meeting at the White House on Tuesday, several Democrats dropped hints about the U.S. plan of attack in Syria. One said the U.S. strike would have "some teeth," and another said the U.S. will provide the weapons to a "vetted" Syrian opposition so they can "fight for themselves."

"I think the president made it clear to us that he's not talking about a pinpoint strike; he's talking about a strike that has some teeth," said Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.). "He's talking about a strike that sends primarily the message that weapons of mass destruction, gassing your own people, is unacceptable, but also a message that tells Assad that we're not just going to let him stay where he is and continue to wreak havoc and rain terror on his people."

The U.S. will send a message that "won't be ignored," Engel said: "I think that the message will be loud and clear. And I think we're taking a first step. And I think we're confident it's going to work."

Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the Obama administration plans to let "a vetted opposition" do the actual fighting:

"And my plea to the president...is that we facilitate a vetted opposition to help to degrade Assad's capability to use chemical weapons. We obviously have power that nobody else has, but the opposition in Syria has the power -- if we facilitate them having this power and if we provide the weapons or have others provide certain key weapons, including anti-tank capability -- to go after the Syrian military that used the chemical weapons, to go after the artilleries -- the artillery, to go after the rocket launchers, to go after the tanks which protect it, those weapons that were used to deliver the chemicals.

"And so I think it's critically important that the Syrians be helped to fight for themselves," Levin said "They are fighting for themselves. They're dying, trying to get rid of Assad. But what we have not yet done is facilitated the delivery to vetted Syrian opposition of weapons systems, including anti-tank weapons, which can take on Assad's tanks, take on his artillery, take on his rocket launchers, which delivered those chemical weapons.

"The opposition is willing to do this," Levin said. "They are fighting right inside Damascus, but they have not yet been provided with certain capabilities, including anti-tank capabilities."

Levin noted that Syrian Army vehicles, artillery and rockets were all used in the chemical attack on the Syrian people. "It's going to be very difficult for our cruise missiles to go after those particular components of the Syrian chemical capability. It will be much easier for the Syrian opposition -- providing it's -- they're vetted and we can trust them -- to be provided the capabilities -- anti-tank capabilities and greater capabilities in terms of their other weapons -- to go after Assad's chemical delivery system.

"So yes, I believe we must act, but it is very important that we succeed, and that our actions be effective, and that's going to require a number of things in addition to what I just talked (about). It's going to require members of the international community, including a number of Arab nations, to be standing there with us, flying there with us and actually participating with us when this action is taken."

Levin agreed it's important to make sure that weapons provided to the Syrian opposition are "not turning on us."

"But anti-tank weapons cannot be turned on us," he continued. "They only can be turned on Assad's tanks. There's no -- I don't know of any target for an anti-tank weapon other than Assad's tanks.

"Now, there are other kinds of capabilities where it's going to be much more essential that we take the precautions to be sure that they will not fall into the wrong hands. That's why the word 'vetted' in front of opposition is just as important as the word 'opposition.' But I am confident that at least some of these weapons cannot be used for any purpose except going after those tanks.

"And remember, those tanks protected the artillery, protected the rockets that were used to deliver the chemical weapons, so that if we do facilitate these kind of capabilities in the hands of vetted Syrian opposition, we are directly linking this response to the use of chemical weapons. That's been very important to the president and it will, I believe, be helpful to do that."

Levin said the Obama administration assured lawmakers on Tuesday that the U.S. will not be acting alone. "We will be acting with allies. We will be acting with a number of Arab nations. We've been assured that this morning. And we will hopefully be acting with the support of Congress -- it's very important to the success and effectiveness of this mission."

Asked if he's satisfied that the U.S. can respond with "almost no risk to any U.S. forces," Levin said no.

"I can't," he said. "There will be no boots on the ground, that's obvious. There's always risk to U.S. forces when U.S. forces deliver, even if it's at a distance, cruise missiles or other kinds of capabilities. But the risk is very, very slight. There's going to be a limited duration to this attack. But what needs to be unlimited is support for the efforts of vetted Syrian opposition. I shouldn't say unlimited. Obviously, there are certain kinds of capabilities you're not going to provide, like nuclear weapons, so I shouldn't use the word 'unlimited.'

"But what's got to be far more robust is our support for the Syrian opposition. And I believe that's going to happen...And I'm confident, after being in the Oval Office with the president this morning, and the vice president, and others, that we are going to make more robust our support for the Syrian opposition that is vetted, to make it clear to the American people and to Assad that this is not just some strike from the United States of limited duration, but this is support for the majority of the Syrian people, who are willing to take him on."

Engel said a draft resolution authorizing the use of force that's been sent to Congress is not final: "I think that it's likely that it will be revised so that people can feel more comfortable with it.

"Look," Engel said, "we don't want boots on the ground. We don't want this to be a prolonged attack or war or anything like that. There's no taste for it, not from the president, not from Congress. And I think that the resolution, as a result, will be narrow to give the president what he needs to have in order to effectively carry out this strike and to give people the sense and the...feeling that this is not going to be an ongoing thing that has no end."

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