The E-Ring

Next NATO commander Breedlove wary of Syria no-fly zone

The likely next NATO supreme allied commander, U.S. Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, told Congress he saw “no military value” in creating a no-fly zone inside of Northern Syria. That position puts him directly at odds with Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who have pressed the president ...

Photo by Chris Maddaloni/CQ-Roll Call
Photo by Chris Maddaloni/CQ-Roll Call

The likely next NATO supreme allied commander, U.S. Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, told Congress he saw “no military value” in creating a no-fly zone inside of Northern Syria.

That position puts him directly at odds with Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who have pressed the president for a no-fly zone, and the three men argued about military options in Syria during a hearing Thursday.

One problem Breedlove outlined is that of the six Patriot missile batteries deployed in Turkey to defend the border, only two are American. The other four come from NATO and Turkey, so the United States would require at least Turkey’s consent to establish a no-fly zone that reached into northern Syria.

“We could do that,” he said, tepidly. “The fact of the matter of being able to project power into Syria is physically possible. There is both good and bad at creating this impression into Syria.” Patriots would have to be re-positioned to defend the no-fly zone extending into Syria, instead of their current role of protecting populations along the Turkish border.

“A safe zone could create opportunity to engage with the opposition, but creating a safe zone in Northern Syria would be much more than — would have to be much more than Patriots,” Breedlove cautioned. “It would probably require fixed-wing air and other capabilities that we would have to bring to the problem.”

Those aircraft would have to destroy Syrian air defenses.

“And I know that CENTCOM (U.S. Central Command) has thought through those issues, and their recommendation at this point is they don’t see a military value in that,” Breedlove claimed of his colleagues in Central Command.

But Levin and McCain quickly pushed back.

SEN. LEVIN: Excuse me. CENTCOM has said they don’t see a military value in taking down air defenses out of Syria —

GEN. BREEDLOVE: No —

SEN. LEVIN: I’m sorry.

“I’m sorry, Senator. Let me — let me say that a different way,” Breedlove replied. “What they have said is they don’t believe that there are good military options or outcomes by creating a no-fly zone over –“

But Levin asked where CENTCOM made the assertion. Breedlove said he thought Gen. James Mattis, the former CENTCOM commander, had said it in SASC testimony shortly before he retired. But McCain quickly read Mattis’ exact quote.

“’The United States and our allies could identify and destroy quite a fair amount of Assad’s operational aircraft on the ground using precision strike and standoff weaponry,’" McCain said, quoting Mattis. “General, so your statement is in direct contradiction to what General Mattis has said in testimony and has told me.”

GEN. BREEDLOVE: Senator, I sit corrected.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey has said repeatedly that he does not support getting militarily involved in Syria, including with a no-fly zone.

 Twitter: @FPBaron

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