Os riscos de uma intervenção na Síria

Enquanto determinados grupos clamam por uma intervenção dos EUA e seus aliados contra o regime de Assad, o NY Times de ontem publicou matéria sobre os riscos desse tipo de ação. Repetirei pela enésima vez (mesmo porque alguns dos meus oito leitores podem ter deixado passar os comentários anteriores…) que a Síria não é a Líbia. O buraco ali é muito mais embaixo. Além disso, antes de qualquer coisa, como diria Garrincha, “tem que combinar com os russos”…

NY Times, March 11, 2012

Military Points to Risks of a Syrian Intervention


WASHINGTON — Despite growing calls for the United States to help stop the bloodshed in Syria, senior Pentagon officials are stepping up their warnings that military intervention would be a daunting and protracted operation, requiring at least weeks of exclusively American airstrikes, with the potential for killing vast numbers of civilians and plunging the country closer to civil war.

The officials say that Syria presents a far larger problem than did Libya, which required a seven-month NATO air campaign last year in which hundreds of aircraft dropped and fired 7,700 bombs and missiles.

Although the United States has the military capability to launch sustained airstrikes in Syria — “We can do anything,” the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, told the Senate last week — defense officials say they are concerned about four tough challenges: the risks in attacking Syria’s plentiful and sophisticated Russian-made air defenses, which are located close to major population centers; arming a deeply splintered Syrian opposition; the potential for starting a proxy war with Iran or Russia, two crucial allies of Syria; and the lack, at least so far, of an international coalition willing to take action against the government of President Bashar al-Assad.

One senior defense official said over the weekend that even creating “safe havens,” or protected areas inside Syria for civilians, would be such a complex operation that military planners were “looking at a serious contingent of U.S. ground troops” to help establish and maintain them, should the United States take such a course of action.

The planning is in response to a request by President Obama for preliminary military options from the Pentagon, even though the administration still believes that diplomatic and economic pressure is the best way to stop the violent repression of Mr. Assad’s government. The options under review include humanitarian airlifts, naval monitoring of Syria and the establishment of a no-fly zone, among other possibilities.

Last week General Dempsey and Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said the military was only in the earliest stages of considering the possibilities. Modern commanders in chief have routinely asked for military contingency plans during crises overseas.

Senator John McCain of Arizona and some of his fellow Republicans continue to argue that the United States has a responsibility to involve itself in the Syrian rebellion. “How many more have to die?” Mr. McCain demanded in a Senate hearing last week, referring to what the United Nations estimates are 7,500 people killed in less than a year in Syria.

Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, said in an interview that the United States had far more strategic interest in Syria than it did in Libya and that the risks of military action could be worth it. “We can’t do every war where you never lose an aircraft,” he said.

Mr. McCain, a retired Navy pilot who was shot down and captured during the Vietnam War and who ran against Mr. Obama for president in 2008, has particularly angered military planners for what they see as his emotional and cavalier comments about getting into another war. The planners say they also need more direction from senior officials in Washington on the administration’s goals and desired end-state in Syria.

“We’ve been sucked into this open-ended arrangement before, and we’re not going there again,” a senior military official said, speaking of Libya, which required extensive American air power — as well as hundreds of cruise missiles fired from American ships and submarines — to take out Libya’s air defenses so that European warplanes could operate freely. Even then, the United States continued to supply ammunition and refueling planes and fly combat missions.

Defense and intelligence officials say that Syria’s integrated air defenses — a combination of thousands of surface-to-air missiles, radars and antiaircraft guns — are not only more advanced than those in Libya, they are also arrayed in densely populated areas on the country’s western border, meaning that even with precision bombing, civilians nearby would probably be killed.

“There would be some severe collateral damage going after those areas,” Mr. Panetta said last week.

As in Libya, the early stages of an air campaign over Syria would be almost entirely American because of the United States’ arsenal and electronic warfare capabilities and would probably take, General Dempsey said, “an extended period of time and a great number of aircraft.”

Once the United States had air dominance, it would be possible to create either safe havens or a “humanitarian corridor” — a secure exit route for refugees to, say, Turkey — but military officials say the corridor and havens would be vulnerable to attack by what American intelligence officials say is a formidable, 330,000-troop Syrian Army.

“I don’t know how long they would tolerate those safe havens,” Senator Jack Reed, Democrat of Rhode Island and a former Army Ranger, said in a Senate hearing last week. “But second, given safe havens, it would also I think imply that someone would have to go in and organize training and organize, literally, an army. That could take months if not years.”

Military officials say that the opposition does not have control of any one area in Syria, unlike in Libya, where, General Dempsey said, “we had tribal forces in the east and west collapsing on the center.” In Syria, he said, “there’s no geographic density of population to collapse anywhere; they’re all intermingled.”

Military and intelligence officials say that the opposition to Mr. Assad remains splintered, made up of as many as 100 groups, and that so far no clear leaders have emerged. American officials are considering providing the opposition with an array of technical assistance, potentially including communications equipment, but have yet to be successful in bringing the disparate groups together into a cohesive council.

A major concern of the Pentagon is Iran, Syria’s most important ally. Military and intelligence officials say that Iran has recently flown into Syria small arms, chiefly rocket-propelled grenades, as well as technological equipment and high-ranking experts to assist the Assad government in interrupting social media communications and the internet.

“They’re providing listening capability, eavesdropping capability to try and pick up where the opposition networks are at, and they’re providing experts who I can only say are experts in oppressing,” Gen. James N. Mattis, the head of the American military’s Central Command, said in a Senate hearing last week.

At the same time, Russia is a leading arms supplier to Syria and maintains a naval station at the Syrian port city of Tartus, on the Mediterranean coast, its only military installation outside the former Soviet territories. Moscow has pushed hard in recent weeks to preserve its relationship with Mr. Assad, most notably vetoing, along with China, a United Nations Security Council resolution calling on Mr. Assad to resign.

“If we jump in with purely military instruments as the U.S., absent a broader strategy, we could very quickly hasten reactions from others, namely Iran and Russia, to bolster the regime and start us down a road towards greater confrontation,” Michèle A. Flournoy, a former top Pentagon official, said in Washington last week.

Administration officials say that they remain concerned about Syria’s chemical and biological weapons, believed to be among the largest stockpiles in the world, and that they are in discussions with allies in the region about how to secure them.

“I’m not saying it’s a fait accompli that if they’re left unsecured, automatically someone can grab them and use them,” General Mattis said. “They may end up frying themselves. But I think that it’s going to take an international effort when Assad falls, and he will fall, in order to secure these weapons.”

In the meantime, the Obama administration continues to review all military options in Syria. “Could it be done?” said Lt. Gen. David A. Deptula, who retired last year as the Air Force’s top intelligence official, speaking of a potential American air campaign in Syria. “The answer is yes. But it would not be a cakewalk.”

Eric Schmitt contributed reporting.