Dempsey: Syria intervention is "act of war" that could cost billions
Joint Chiefs Chairman General Martin Dempsey
July 22nd, 2013
08:26 PM ET

Dempsey: Syria intervention is "act of war" that could cost billions

By Jamie Crawford

United States military involvement in Syria would likely cost billions of dollars and carry a range of risks for the forces involved, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Martin Dempsey said in a letter released Monday.

"I know that the decision to use force is not one that any of us takes lightly," Dempsey wrote in the letter to Sen. Carl Levin,D-Michigan, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. "It is no less than an act of war."

Dempsey's letter was in response to a request by Levin and Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, to provide his assessments of possible scenarios for future involvement in the Syrian civil war.

But it also came with a warning for a military now in a second decade at war.

"We have learned from the past 10 years, however, that it is not enough to simply alter the balance of military power without careful consideration of what is necessary in order to preserve a functioning state."

Establishing a no-fly zone in Syria would cost $500 million initially, while "averaging as much as a billion dollars per month over the course of a year," Dempsey said of an operation that would limit as much as possible the aerial bombing capabilities of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Dempsey said establishing a no-fly zone could result in the loss of U.S. aircraft, which would require personnel recovery forces in Syria. "It may also fail to reduce the violence or shift the momentum because the regime relies overwhelmingly on surface fires - mortars, artillery, and missiles," he wrote.

Options to prevent the use and proliferation of chemical weapons would also include lethal force through the destruction of known stockpiles, movement interdiction, or through the physical seizure of known chemical weapons sites.

Dempsey said this option would also require a no-fly zone along with "air and missile strikes involving hundreds of aircraft, ships, submarines."

"Thousands of special operations forces and other ground forces would be needed to assault and secure critical sites," Dempsey wrote. "Costs could also average well over $1 billion per month."

It is extremely rare for the costs of such operations to be laid out in such detail, and Dempsey also noted the potential costs of less expansive actions the United State could take.

Training, advising and supporting opposition forces could require as many as several thousand troops at an estimated cost of $500 million per year initially, Dempsey said.

Options for establishing safe zones or buffer areas to allow for the training of opposition forces, as well as areas for the safe distribution of humanitarian aid, would require a limited no-fly zone to keep the areas safe from the Assad regime's aerial bombardments. U.S. ground forces would be needed to defend the safe zones, Dempsey said.

This too, could cost a great deal of money and put lives at risk Dempsey wrote.

"A limited no-fly zone coupled with U.S. ground forces would push the costs over $1 billion per month," he wrote. "Risks are similar to the no-fly zone with the added problem of regime surface fires into the zones, killing more refugees due to their concentration. The zones could also become operational bases for extremists."

Dempsey said the use of periodic and limited strikes against regime military assets would also cost "billions" depending on the duration of such operations.

The letter comes at complex time in the evolution of the Obama administration's policy on Syria. Although the administration has recently signaled its readiness to provide certain arms to vetted factions of the Syrian opposition, there has been no movement of U.S. weapons due to concerns on Capitol Hill about how the program would work.

But Rep. Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican and the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, signaled there may be movement on the issue in the coming days.

"The House Intelligence Committee has very strong concerns about the strength of the administration's plans in Syria and its chances for success," Rogers said in a written statement Monday. "After much discussion and review, we got a consensus that we could move forward with what the administration's plans and intentions are in Syria consistent with committee reservations."

McCain put a hold on Dempsey's nomination for a second term last week until he received greater detail from Dempsey about the various options available to intervene in Syria. It was unclear whether Dempsey's letter answered McCain's questions.

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  5. RQ

    Wait a minute, let me get this straight, "we're going to start arming the rebels and possibly training them while many are Al Qaida". Does this make sense to anyone else out there?

    July 24, 2013 at 10:41 pm | Reply
  6. RQ

    Wait a minute, let me get this straight, "we're going to start arming the rebels and possibly training them while many are Hezbolla and Al Qaida". Does this make sense to anyone else out there?

    July 24, 2013 at 10:39 pm | Reply
    • RQ

      Why is it any of our business? Why do we always have to foot the bill?

      July 24, 2013 at 10:42 pm | Reply
  7. With T-25

    First and foremost, it requires a declaration of war by the U.S. Congress, subject to review and criticism in a functioning democracy. Inherent in that is Congress appropriating the funds for a declared war, and providing a plan to pay for it, unlike the last multi-branded effort that simply relied on supplemental funding, while watching coalition partners straddle the cost benefit relationship of growing their own economies by limiting support, while making trade in consumables that the U.S. forces were going to be the primary purchasers of.

    The "tried and true" playbook for such efforts dates to the 50s and has only produced quagmire after quagmire, and propaganda funding on all sides. The people who wrote that playbook always insisted it worked, because admitting failure would be tantamount to treason, in a propaganda filled, " playing the long game" political shouting match, taught to the current participants by – those who told them to keep their mouths shut, their eyes open, " this is how you survive in DC", and " the countries we're trying to bring democracy to aren't paying their bills either, so we have to sell them stuff, forcefully."
    Plus reconstruction aid and no- bid contracts are big moneymakers. Except when the U.S. population gets taxed over 5 times on the same product, including the advertising for the war itself. And can't provide the services domestically that the Humvees and tanks sent overseas require massive overhaul and maintenance for – like roads and bridges, and law enforcement.
    England couldn't maintain the Raj, the French couldn't maintain what became Vietnam, and " training" in democracy building, for pols and soldiers alike, has to be successfully implemented domestically – First.

    July 24, 2013 at 8:04 pm | Reply
  8. PeopleSmoks

    I have to laugh! What we need to ask is, "What would Charlie Wilson do?"

    The answer is simple and could be a fix to a lot of problems. We know Al Qaida is sending fighters in as "rebels" and that Hezbollah is fighting for the Assad regime. Both of these groups hate the US and would love to kill you and me. We also have Russia sending expensive weapons to Syria which they will probably never be paid for. Sooooo....

    What Charlie Wilson would do is send a bunch of Stinger missiles and small arms to the "rebels". Let the terrorists continue to fight each other in their secular holy war. A $40,000 Stinger vs a $20,000,000 Mig seems a good trade off, and worked out for us in Afghanistan in 1987. For those who didn't know, that was Charlie Wilson's idea. There is no need to send our kids to Syria. No need to put our planes up against Russian S300 missiles.

    July 24, 2013 at 11:40 am | Reply
    • JDMArkansas

      And see how well "Charlie Wilson's War" worked in Afghanistan. The Soviets WERE driven out. By the Taliban and al Qaida. Who became such dear friends of the United States that we are now in the longest war in United States history (except for the genocide of the Native Americans.) Yes, Afghanistan is SUCH a good example of how "limited military action" works for the interests of the United States.

      September 3, 2013 at 10:50 am | Reply
  9. Ferdinand

    To preserve American pride, honor and prestige, we must fight in Syria. The chairman of Joint Chief of Staff claimed that this can be done at one billion $ per month and assuming an involvement of 10 years, the total cost is only 120 billion $. Is American pride, honor and prestige do not worth 120 billion $ ?
    I vote to invade Syria.

    July 23, 2013 at 7:33 pm | Reply
    • m&m

      Heheh when does any war go as planned?

      July 23, 2013 at 8:17 pm | Reply
    • TexTeacher

      Here YOU go again. Send in the troops! It's a civil war folks. I am a Vietnam vet (24 years) and all three of my children and a daughter-in-law are now serving. We are all proud of our country and have proved we are will to die to defend it. However Syria is a civil war. Keep our military out of it.

      July 23, 2013 at 10:11 pm | Reply
      • JDMArkansas

        TexTeacher, you are a Vietnam veteran. Look how well the second longest war in United States history (Vietnam) worked out. After thousands of American and millions of Vietnamese lives, the outcome was the same, an unaligned Marxist state in all of Vietnam, as it would have been back in the 1950s if the United States had stayed out and let Ho Chi Minh take over the country by a landslide election, which he would have done if the United States had not installed their puppet military junta in South Vietnam. You really want your children and grandchildren to pay that cost in lives and money for nothing? There is no choice in Syria. Is an Islamist Sunni dictatorship in Syria better than a not particularly religious Allouite (a type of Shiite) dictatorship that is there now? Let's look at Egypt. A secular military dictator was replaced by an Islamist military dictator which has now been replaced by a military junta. Is this an improvement?

        September 3, 2013 at 11:01 am |
    • Bimbo the Birthday Clown

      Gee Ferdinand, yours is the most idiotic comment I have seen here yet. By posting that manure above, it appears that you never got past the 4th grade in school. Even a moron would know better than that!

      July 23, 2013 at 10:25 pm | Reply
  10. Warren

    Great, we can't feed and take care of our own and now we can afford to care for another country.
    Federal employees have not had a raise in 5 years and now we are losing 20% of our pay. But its fine to arm the rebels.
    Stop the madness!!!!

    July 23, 2013 at 5:34 pm | Reply
    • Bimbo the Birthday Clown

      Thank you, Warren. You said it all!

      July 23, 2013 at 7:21 pm | Reply
  11. Pete

    Watch Gen.Dempsey get fired because he didn't cater to the Syrian rebels like McCain did in selling weapons and got the MIC mad at him as well..A general not warmongering like the republicans on Capital Hill something wrong here or has this man seen enough useless,senseless deaths,destruction in foriegn lands and wants peace for a change..Maybe Pres.Obamas vision of peace amongst all nations is rubbing off on some of these generals!!And do we want to arm rebels who at a later date might use our own weapons we gave them against US like in Afghanistan,I think not ,not again!!

    July 23, 2013 at 4:26 pm | Reply
    • alan

      Dempsey is appointed by the president,who may or may not take his advice into consideration .Sen. Mccain has no power to impact Gen. Dempsey in any way.

      July 23, 2013 at 9:34 pm | Reply
      • TexTeacher

        Wrong! The president "nominates" the senate appoints or not.

        July 23, 2013 at 10:15 pm |
  12. Rosslaw

    Wow! A chairman of the joint chiefs who does not for a moment believe a military solution can produce heaven on earth. In fact, he doesn't seem very enthusiastic at all about intervention in a sectarian, genocidal war that started in the 7th century. I hope this guy might consider running for high office after retirement.

    July 23, 2013 at 3:03 pm | Reply
  13. Charlies

    There are still many idiot blood-thirsty war mongars like McCain or fake liberal like John Kerry who have never learned the painful lesson of Iraq war with $trillions wasted. They would rather borrow money to invade, destroy and then rebuild other hopeless countries instead of rebuild America here. TAKE CARE OF OUR OWN FIRST

    July 23, 2013 at 1:55 pm | Reply
  14. Jerry

    Obama will arm the rebels, probably has all ready. Iran and Russia are in there with both feet. And o'Idiot needs a distraction from his absolutely failed presidency. WTH the Middle East is in total disarray due to 'the obama doctrine', what's one more misstep for a distraction?

    July 23, 2013 at 10:11 am | Reply
    • George patton

      That's a good question, Jerry. Obama has managed to do almost everything wrong since he became President. Now he plans to drag this country into Syria's civil war exactly where it has no place at all!!!

      July 23, 2013 at 1:34 pm | Reply
      • Pete

        @George,and what has Pres.Obama got wrong again,please elaberate for me..If you had said Bushs,Reagan,Nixon I'd say you're probibly right but this president looks good even against your obstructionistic morons in congress still getting it done whether you like it or not!Hey George answer this question bud how do you repeal something like the ACA bill that's been made law by the SCOTUS and still are trying even after 38 times,a waste of our tax payers money because that don't work for free do they George!!Read how you repeal it,its impossible because the last signature is the presidents and you know who that is right!!

        July 23, 2013 at 4:37 pm |
      • George patton

        That's simple, Pete. The main reason you can't repeal such laws is the fact that 90% of Congress are on the take, getting paid off in one way or another by the War lobby not to do so! The M.I.C. has become exponentially more powerful since the Days of Pres. Eisenhower.

        July 23, 2013 at 7:27 pm |
      • Pete

        @George,the ACA bill have parts that are created by republicans..Some of it by Romney in Romneycare so what's the big deal because the racist republicans don't want a black president in Obama going down in political history for creating,passing a beneficial national health plan that helps all America ...And yes I agree that most of congress is on the take from the MIC but if you research only about 30% of active republican reps ever served militarily while democrates have over 70% served and that's why democrates more than ever often advocate peace instead of war because they've seen what it brings in death,destruction much of republicans have run from,ask how many republicans have multiple deferrments just from serving in Nam.A quote from Eisenhower I'll give to you:the people of the world genuinely want peace,some day the leaders of the world are going to have to give in and give it to them!!I myself advocate staying out of Syria as you've read so yes George just stay on the sidelines and watch the fight this time peacefully!! And spend our defense funds at home where it can do the most good!!

        July 23, 2013 at 9:55 pm |
  15. It looks like

    It looks like those MIC campaign dollars have paid off!!!!

    July 23, 2013 at 9:42 am | Reply
  16. Tim Clock

    Like US intervened in Germany and Poland to save Jews from nazis then the US should act in Syria to save Muslims from brutal regime of Assad and Iran

    July 23, 2013 at 6:46 am | Reply
    • m&m

      And do exactly what, Its not only about revolution it also involves an older war. Support which rebels? This area is at the point beyond of trying to fix anything. Its one step forward and 5 steps backwards. Even if its left alone I don't think Assad can get a handle on it. All the cities will look like bones sticking out of the earth in a couple years.

      July 23, 2013 at 7:04 am | Reply
    • USMC1371

      Wake up early and take two stupid pills today? WW2 was nothing like Syria at all. This is rebels/terrorist trying to over a government. We may not like that government but it is not our fight and, we need to stay out of it completely.

      July 23, 2013 at 7:15 am | Reply
    • Caligula

      Idiot, the US was not in Poland in WW II – the Soviets were. We only fought Germany because Hitler was stupid enough to declare war on us.

      July 23, 2013 at 9:17 am | Reply
      • Jerry

        FDR was so happy about this declaration... The install Marxist president of the US.

        July 23, 2013 at 10:14 am |
    • jocho johnson

      Nah you can't really make this comparison because Jews were not slaughtering Germans and Poles in Europe in the 30s and 40s. In Syria you have both sides trying to slaughter each other.

      July 23, 2013 at 1:32 pm | Reply
    • Charlies

      How do you pay for these billions to interven? Let me remind you due to your Alz that we have paid more than $trillions to interven Iraq and Afg, with no end in sight. Stop to be the world police by borrowing and ignore our own people and shamble bridges, roads, school. TAKE CARE OF OUR PEOPLE FIRST

      July 23, 2013 at 1:39 pm | Reply
  17. helenecha

    If only we're pleased to see the ones who will not spend money wrong ways.

    July 23, 2013 at 2:27 am | Reply
  18. Aarky

    The US was conned into believing that Assad used Sarin Gas in a battle. That was the excuse to propose sending weapons to the rebels. The Russians recently stated that it was home made Sarin used by a group of rebels that caused the deaths. The WH and senile old fools like McCain need reminded of the phrase, "Throwing gasoline on a fire". It probably came as a shock to that old geezer McCain that General Dempsey has pointed out all the negatives to their wanting to throw gas on the fire.

    July 22, 2013 at 11:52 pm | Reply
  19. Nikan

    Syria has always been a secular state, where Muslims of all sects, Christians, Druze and other minority
    religious groups lived peacefully, as neighbors. This is unprecedented
    in other parts of the Middle East, including Qatar.

    You tell me how these Islamist fighters fit into a future secular Syria. Mind
    you, many of these fighters, the vast majority, are not even Syrian. Most of these groups operate under the moderate Free Syrian Army (FSA) banner in hopes of getting a piece of the aid pie. But they all operate
    independently, and there is no command and control in the FSA. The Islamists are in the majority. Any arms sent will end up in their hands. In Aleppo, for example, the Islamists disarmed the smaller rebel
    actions fighting the government.

    1. Syrian Islamic Front
    Est. nos. – 25,000 – extremist salafist militia
    Leader: Abu Abdullah al-Hamawi

    2. The Syrian Islamic Liberation front – Loosely knit Islamist alliance.
    Est. nos. – 37,000
    Leader: Ahmed Eissa al-sheikh

    3. Farouk Battalions – moderate islamist
    Est nos – 14,000
    Leader: Osama Juneidi

    4. Jabhat al-Nusra and The Islamic State Of Iraq – Both are al-Queda affiliates.
    Est nos. – 6,000 – 7,000
    Leader: Abu Mohammed al-Golani

    5. Islamic Ahrar al-Sham Movement – Extreme salafists
    Est nos. – 10,000
    Leader: Abu Abdullah al-Hamawi

    6. Syrian Martyrs Brigade – Salafists
    Est nos. – 8,000
    Leader: Jamaal Maarouf

    7. Islam Brigade – Extreme salafists
    Est nos.- Low thousands
    leader: Zahran Alloush

    8. Tawid Brigade – Moderate Islamist.
    Est nos. – 12,000
    Leader: Abdel Aziz Salama

    9. Suquor al-sham Brigades – Moderate Islamist
    Est nos: Several thousand
    leader: Achmed Eissa al-Sheikh

    I vote to keep President Assad in power. He is no angel, but he is the lesser of the evils!

    July 22, 2013 at 11:08 pm | Reply
    • Bill Stevens

      I agree. We need to leave them alone. If the rebels win they will turn on each other and Syria will become like Somalia.

      July 23, 2013 at 12:05 am | Reply
    • Tim Clock

      You simply cant' let innocent people die at the hands of brutal regime

      July 23, 2013 at 6:59 am | Reply
      • Tim Clock

        Assad must go

        July 23, 2013 at 6:59 am |
      • USMC1371

        Sure we can it's not our fight and they should not have started a fight they could not win on their own.

        July 23, 2013 at 7:19 am |
      • Shawn

        If you feel so strongly, go over there and fight in THEIR civil war. It's not mine. Victory by one side over the other will not benefit our security. The latest recruiting commercial for the Navy about being a "Global Force for Good" is indicative of your position and is a bunch of B.S. It's not a force to "do good" throughout the world. It's a force to kill bad people that would try to attack us.

        July 23, 2013 at 12:48 pm |
      • Charlies

        A typical hypocritical liberal opinion that we can't let innocent people died. You know how many innocent American die each day? How many innocent Palestein children died under the name of "collateral damage" by Israel? Did you raise your hypocritical sympathy? TAKE CARE OF OUR OWN PEOPLE and COUNTRY FIRST

        July 23, 2013 at 1:46 pm |
    • Jerry

      Obama is intent on Turing the Middle East over to Islamists, the proof is in his actions. Good luck Asad

      July 23, 2013 at 10:18 am | Reply
  20. George Patton

    no sir we don't need waste billions; we have John "The Original Rambo" Mccain for the Syrian job, send him there to fight.

    July 22, 2013 at 11:07 pm | Reply
    • Charlies

      Don';t forget to send that Tim Clock self-claimed hypocritical sympathy liberal or blood-thirsty hawk with McCain to volunteer to save Syria "Innocent People".

      Hey Tim Clock, put your words where your dirty mouth is. Go to Syria and join the rebel in that civil war.

      July 23, 2013 at 1:50 pm | Reply
  21. John

    People, this guy swore an oath to protect the secrets of the US government (OUR COUNTRY). It’s not a debate the guy broke that oath and needs to be fully prosecuted!

    July 22, 2013 at 10:24 pm | Reply
  22. Larry

    Syria is a "Lose lose" situation. I feel we would lose LESS by arming the rebels just enough so both sides wind up killing each other.

    July 22, 2013 at 9:52 pm | Reply
  23. funguseater

    The problem I see is that when faced with NO ALTERNATIVE Assad MUST use his chemical weapons to survive, in the same manner that the US would use its Tactical Nukes if it was facing an overwhelming assault. It just seems silly to think otherwise.

    And honestly is the US prepared for another warfront that could potentially draw in Iran or other neighbors,hmm maybe that is the plan.

    July 22, 2013 at 9:42 pm | Reply
  24. oldpolyman

    In the early days of the conflict, Prez Barry talked so much smack, that he has to invade Syria or lose whatever credibility he has left.

    July 22, 2013 at 9:41 pm | Reply
    • USMC1371

      Like he had any to begin with.......

      July 23, 2013 at 5:17 am | Reply
  25. StanCalif

    The Syrian "mess" is just that! Any further involvement by the US would only make matters worse! McCain needs to shut up and go into blistful retirement, just like GWB! His days of mllitary "soulitions" is over. What does he want, another Bush style "Shock and Awe" program to bomb the Syrian people into "peace"? It did not work in Viet Nam, it did not work in Iraq, and hasn't changed one thing in Afghanistan nor Pakistan.
    Sending in American troops and aircraft just gives both sides a new target! These people are happy and proud to be killing their own countrymen. Let them finish the total destuction of their own cites and all their culture! We, the US, don't even know who most of the "rebels" really are.
    When the last armed Syrian crawls out of the rubble waving a white flag, slap him smartley and ask him who he wants to teach him how to live in peace. His choices: Russia, China or Israel! The USA will NOT be a choice. We, the US, cannot manage such a project, We have NO successes in Nation Building, NONE!

    July 22, 2013 at 9:26 pm | Reply
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