US War Secretary Leon Panetta stressed that his country would not consider sending ground troops into Syria, even to secure chemical sites.
“The US government was discussing the issue with “Israel” and other countries in the region,” he said, but ruled out deploying American ground forces in “any hostile setting”.
Panetta further insisted that “We’re not talking about ground troops”, adding that any future US military role in Syria would only come about if a new government asked for assistance.
“You always have to keep the possibility that, if there is a peaceful transition and international organizations get involved, that they might ask for assistance in that situation”, he said.
Panetta further confirmed that his country is increasingly focused on how to secure Syria’s chemical weapons if President Bashar al-Assad falls from power.
However, he left the door open to some US military presence if al-Assad’s period wasn’t followed by a peaceful transition.
Panetta also warned that the greater risk might be a chaotic vacuum if al-Assad is toppled.
“I think the greater concern right now is what steps does the international community take to make sure that when al-Assad comes down, there is a process and procedure to make sure we get our hands on securing those sites”, he said.
The US military’s top officer, General Martin Dempsey, told the same news conference that if al-Assad chose to use his chemical stockpiles against opposition forces, it would be virtually impossible to stop him.
He said preventing the use of chemical arms “would be almost unachievable… because you would have to have such clarity of intelligence, you know, persistent surveillance, you would have to actually see it before it happened”.