Joint Chiefs Chairman Backtracks On Support For Arming Syrian Rebels

Gen. Martin Dempsey

Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey said on Wednesday that he is more reluctant to support arming Syria’s rebels than he had been previously, saying that the situation in Syria is “more confusing on the opposition side today than it was six months ago.”

Back in February, Dempsey said that he had supported a plan put forth several months prior by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and then-CIA Director Gen. David Petraeus to arm the rebels.

But during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Wednesday, Dempsey, in an exchange with Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), said that he has since changed his view:

DEMPSEY: Well, at the time the … we felt like we had a clear enough understanding of the moderate opposition. And we felt as though it was in the long-term interest of Syria as a nation-state that the institutions wouldn’t fail and that the time was proper at that moment to intervene that way. … My military judgment is that now that we have seen the emergence of Al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham notably, and now that we have seen photographs of some of the weapons that is have been flowing into Syria in the hands of those groups, now I am more concerned than I was before.

“If we made the decision then to supply them with weapons, it would have been less complicated than now?” McCain asked. “That is a potential solution — a potential conclusion, yes, sir,” Dempsey replied.

The Joint Chiefs chairman, however, added that he would support arming the rebels “if we could clearly identify the right people,” a position that is in line with a recommendation of a recent report from the Center for American Progress. Watch the clip:

Calls for greater Western military intervention in Syria have grown louder in recent months but the Obama administration is holding the line with supplying so-called non-lethal and humanitarian aid.

At the same time, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said during the same hearing on Wednesday that the U.S is sending 200 U.S. troops to Jordan, which the Los Angeles Times describes as “the vanguard of a potential U.S. military force of 20,000 or more that could be deployed if the Obama administration decides to intervene in Syria to secure chemical weapons arsenals or to prevent the 2-year-old civil war from spilling into neighboring nations.”

And Secretary of State John Kerry said in a House hearing also on Wednesday that the U.S. is working “very, very closely” with those who are suppling arms to moderate Syrian rebels.