At a joint news conference Friday, Jan. 11, retiring Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs, Gen. Martin Dempsey, cleaned the Pentagon’s Syrian desk ready for incoming Secretary Chuck Hagel. Boiled down to essentials, their triple message was that Bashar Assad could not be stopped from using chemical weapons if he chose to do so, that securing the CW sites after Assad’s fall was the job of the “international community” and that no US ground troops would be sent to Syria.
Panetta and Dempsey essentially confirmed a fact first reported by DEBKAfile in the third week of November: US naval, air and marine forces were withdrawn from Syrian offshore waters following the White House’s decision to stay clear of military involvement in the Syrian conflict. After extending Syrian opposition forces diplomatic support for nearly two years, the Obama administration is dumping the Assad headache in the laps of Syria’s immediate neighbors, Turkey, Jordan and Israel, and casting the rebels adrift.
This decision was spelled out with crystal clarity by Panetta and Dempsey at a joint Washington press conference in Washington:
“The United States is increasingly focused on how to secure Syria’s chemical weapons if President Bashar al-Assad falls from power,” said the outgoing defense secretary. In reference to the problem while Assad is still in place, Panetta emphasized that the United States is not considering sending in ground troops.