US military effort in Syria could backfire: Pentagon

A US-led campaign to tilt the balance from embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to the opposition would be a vast undertaking, costing billions of dollars, and could backfire on the country, the Pentagon has warned.

In its first detailed list of military options to stem the bloody civil war in Syria, the Pentagon has provided a list of options available for the Obama administration, The New York Times reported.

The list of options laid out in a three-page letter from the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, to the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Carl Levin was the first time the military has explicitly described what it sees as the formidable challenge of intervening in the war, the report said.

It came as the White House, which has limited its military involvement to supplying the rebels with small arms and other weaponry, has begun implicitly acknowledging that Assad may not be forced out of power anytime soon.

He noted that long-range strikes on the Syrian government's military targets would require "hundreds of aircraft, ships, submarines and other enablers," and cost "in the billions."

General Dempsey, America's highest-ranking military officer, provided the unclassified, three-page letter at the request of Levin after testifying last week that he believed it was likely that Assad would be in power a year from now.

If ordered by the president, General Dempsey wrote, the military is ready to carry out options that include efforts to train, advise and assist the opposition; conduct limited missile strikes; set up a no-fly zone; establish buffer zones, most likely across the borders with Turkey or Jordan; and take control of Assad's chemical weapons stockpile.

"All of these options would likely further the narrow military objective of helping the opposition and placing more pressure on the regime," General Dempsey wrote. But he added: "Once we take action, we should be prepared for what comes next. Deeper involvement is hard to avoid."

A decision to use force "is no less than an act of war," he wrote, warning that "we could inadvertently empower extremists or unleash the very chemical weapons we seek to control."

Training, advising and assisting opposition troops, he wrote, could require anywhere from several hundred to several thousand troops, and cost about USD 500 million a year. An offensive of limited long-range strikes against Syrian military targets would require hundreds of aircraft and warships and could cost billions of dollars over time.

Imposing a no-fly zone would require shooting down government warplanes and destroying airfields and hangars. It would also require hundreds of aircraft. The cost could reach USD 1 billion a month.

"Thousands of Special Operations forces and other ground forces would be needed to assault and secure critical sites," he wrote, with costs well over USD 1 billion a month.