As Syria's Assad pummels Homs, West reluctantly weighs military option
After diplomatic efforts at the UN failed Saturday, there is a growing consensus that supporting the rebel Free Syrian Army may be the only way to break the stalemate between Assad and his opponents.
Updated at 3:47 p.m. Eastern time.Skip to next paragraph
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Syria's regime today kept up its assault on the key opposition stronghold of Homs, where local groups say hundreds have been killed since shelling began Feb. 3. With Syria's violence escalating and diplomatic efforts deadlocked at the United Nations, international attention is turning toward a possible military solution to hasten the downfall of President Bashar al-Assad.
A direct Western-led military intervention is being discounted for now. But diplomats and analysts say Western and Arab officials are mulling an option of military support for the rebel Free Syrian Army in the hope that a campaign of attrition will wear down the regular Syrian forces and eventually undermine the Assad regime.
The notion is already winning public support in Washington. Sen. Joe Lieberman (I) of Connecticut has said the FSA deserves a “range of support” including weapons. And Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich also has recommended “supplying weapons” and providing the necessary backing to the Syrian opposition to help them topple the Assad regime. It is rumored, but not proven, that Qatar – the tiny Gulf state that armed Libyan rebels last year – may already be supplying funds and weapons to the FSA.
Still, any Western or Arab military support for the ill-equipped FSA almost guarantees a prolonging and intensification of a conflict that already has killed more than 5,400 people and brought the country to the brink of a sectarian civil war.
“I understand the moral outrage that has led some to demand military intervention," says Andrew Exum, a military analyst at the Center for a New American Security in Washington and author of the Abu Muqawama counterinsurgency blog. "But few simple military solutions present themselves.”
Why intervention in Syria is dicier than in Libya
Interest in a military option has grown since Saturday, when Russia and China vetoed a United Nations Security Council resolution condemning the violence in Syria. The deadlock at the UN appears to have exhausted diplomatic options for now. Washington announced yesterday that it had closed the US Embassy in Damascus and recalled all American staff. Several European countries have also recalled their ambassadors to Syria for consultations. And on Tuesday, the six Gulf Arab states said that they were withdrawing their own representatives from Damascus and expelling Syrian ambassadors in their capitals.