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Pentagon wanted to arm the Syrian opposition

Pentagon wanted to arm the Syrian opposition

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey were in favor of the plan last year advocated by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and CIA Director David Petraeus to arm the Syrian opposition, Dempsey testified Thursday.

On Feb. 2, the New York Times reported that Clinton and Petraeus worked together on a plan last summer that would have seen the United States vet and train opposition groups and supply certain parts of the Syrian opposition with weapons. The White House rejected the Clinton-Petraeus plan, according to the paper.

"The plan had risks, but it also offered the potential reward of creating Syrian allies with whom the United States could work, both during the conflict and after President Bashar al-Assad’s eventual removal," the Times wrote.

During testimony before the Senate Armed Service Committee Thursday, Dempsey said both he and Panetta supported the idea of training and arming select parts of the Syrian opposition when Clinton and Petraeus proposed it.

"Did you support the recommendation by then Secretary of State Clinton and then head of CIA General Petraeus that we provide weapons to the resistance in Syria? Did you support that?" Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) asked Panetta and Dempsey.

"We did," Dempsey responded.

McCain issued a statement later Thursday on the exchange that focused on the fact that the White House overruled the leadership of the State Department, the Defense Department, and the CIA when it rejected the Clinton-Petraeus proposal.

"I was very pleased to hear both Secretary Panetta and Chairman Dempsey state that they supported this proposal, which unfortunately was refused by the White House. What this means is that the President overruled the senior leaders of his own national security team, who were in unanimous agreement that America needs to take greater action to change the military balance of power in Syria," McCain said. "The crisis in Syria represents a graphic failure of American leadership. I urge the President to heed the advice of his former and current national security leaders and immediately take the necessary steps, along with our friends and allies, that could hasten the end of the conflict in Syria. The time to act is long overdue, but it is not too late."

A GOP member of Congress told The Cable Thursday that congressional leaders were briefed on the plan at the time, and that many of them supported it.

"I had a conversation with Petraeus at the time and I was very open to that. In talking it through extensively, there was some merit to what they were proposing … It was going to be limited to groups that we were going to certify that were secular and more moderate in nature," the lawmaker said. "The guys who are going to determine the future of Syria are the guys on the ground with the weaponry."