Panetta, Dempsey warn of Syria’s bioweapons

Leon Panetta

Top U.S. military officials spoke on Wednesday about Syria’s extensive biological and chemical weapons stockpile and its sophisticated air defenses as a strategic reality check to the demand for U.S. military action.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Army Gen. Martin Dempsey said that they would be ready if the order is made but that the situation is currently too complicated to quickly jump into action. While Republican Sen. John McCain has called for the president to launch airstrikes against President Bashar Assad, few colleagues in Congress have expressed interest in such a tactic, Associated Press reports.

“The fundamental issue that is before us is whether or not the United States will go in and act unilaterally in that part of the world, and engage in another war in the Muslim world unilaterally,” Panetta said, according to Associated Press. “Or whether or not we will work with others in determining what action we take.”

Panetta said that the situation is dissimilar to what the U.S. faced in Libya because Syria’s air defenses are five times more sophisticated and its biological and chemical weapons stockpile is 100 times larger. In addition, attacks could lead to many unintended deaths.

“We also need to be alert to extremists,” Dempsey said, according to Associated Press. “(In addition to other hostile actors, including Iran which) has been exploiting the situation and expanding its support to the regime. And we need to be especially alert to the fate of Syria’s chemical and biological weapons. They need to stay exactly where they are.”

President Obama is currently relying on sanctions and international diplomatic isolation to pressure Assad’s regime into handing over power. The House’s Foreign Affairs Committee unanimously approved harder sanctions on Syria targeting its energy sector along with strengthening current penalties.

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