Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-MI) endorsed Tuesday the idea of establishing a no-fly zone inside Syria and attacking the air defenses and air power of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Levin chaired a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee Tuesday morning during which he asked Adm. James Stavridis, the Supreme Allied Commander, Europe, if NATO was discussing attacking Assad's air defenses. Stavridis acknowledged the idea was under discussion but said there was no unified NATO position on the issue.
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) then asked Stavridis if NATO is doing contingency planning for military operations inside Syria.
"We are looking at a wide range of operations, and we are prepared, if called upon, to be engaged as we were in Libya," Stavridis replied.
Stavridis said that the NATO Patriot missile batteries currently deployed in Turkey have the capability to shoot down Syrian military aircraft in a radius of 20 miles. McCain pressed Stavridis to give his personal opinion as to whether or not establishing a Patriot battery-enforced no-fly zone in northern Syria would speed the end of the conflict.
"My personal opinion is that would be helpful in breaking the deadlock and bringing down the Assad regime," Stavridis said.
After the hearing, Levin directly endorsed the idea of attacking Syrian air defenses and using the Patriot missile batteries in Turkey to establish a no-fly zone inside Syria in an interview with The Cable.
"I believe there should be the next ratcheting up of military effort and that would include going after some of Syria's air defenses," Levin said.
Regarding the establishment of a no-fly zone inside Syria, Levin said that would help both protect innocent civilians and speed the end of the conflict.
"You could protect that kind of a zone with these Patriot missiles, leaving the missiles in Turkey but having the zone inside the Syrian border," he said. "It is a way without putting boots on the ground and in a way that would be fairly cautious, that would put additional pressure on Assad and also create a zone where Syrian people who are looking for protection and safety could come without crossing the border and becoming refugees."
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) on Tuesday called for the United States to put boots on the ground in Syria to secure chemical weapons sites, in light of new allegations that chemical weapons were used in Aleppo province.
Levin said it might come to that at some point and that the U.S. military should be prepared.
"We have to have that option," he said. "If [chemical weapons] are going to run free and fall into the hands of terrorists, we have to have some option of securing those, particularly if there's going to be a disintegration in Syria."
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.