US hawks demand Syria action after 'gas attacks'

WASHINGTON, June 14, (AFP) - Senior lawmakers demanded decisive US action on Syria on Thursday after the White House accused the regime of using chemical weapons, with some urging a no-fly zone and heavy arms for the rebels.Republicans applauded President Barack Obama for toughening his stance and threatening to provide "military support" to the rebels, but some hawks in the party insisted he must go further at a critical point in Syria's bloody civil war.

"The president's red line has been crossed. US credibility is on the line," Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham said in a statement.
"Now is not the time to merely take the next incremental step. Now is the time for more decisive actions."

While opposed to putting US boots on the ground, McCain has led the charge on Capitol Hill for a no-fly zone, saying Syria's rebels will never have a chance against Bashar al-Assad's forces unless his jets are neutralized.

Many military experts have warned against a no-fly zone over Syria, which they say would require Western jets to patrol it and to strike the regime's relatively good air defenses, but McCain insisted it could be done.

"We can establish a no-fly zone without sending a single manned airplane over Syria... and we can change this equation on the battlefield," he said.

House Intelligence Committee chair Mike Rogers said the Pentagon should help "the Turks and our Arab League partners create safe zones in Syria from which the US and our allies can train, arm, and equip vetted opposition forces."
That would give Washington "the credibility it needs for a seat at the table during the transition to a post-Assad Syria," he said.Number two House Republican Eric Cantor was more critical, saying that despite Obama's "rhetoric" about red lines, the Syrian conflict has only deepened."It's increasingly clear the president does not have a coherent plan to manage this growing strategic catastrophe," Cantor said.

And if US armed forces were to boost its Mideast presence, at least one senior lawmaker expressed concern about massive budget cuts that have pinched US programs, including in the military.

"Seventeen combat coded Air Force squadrons are grounded due to budget cuts. A carrier battle group should be in the Middle East, but is instead in port," noted House Armed Services Committee chairman Howard "Buck" McKeon.

"Red lines are meaningless unless they are backed by action."McCain worried that the Pentagon would send only non-lethal supplies to Syria like rations or flak jackets."We need heavy weaponry. We need the kind that can counter tanks, and we need surface to air missiles that can take care of air," he said.

Graham told the Senate it was crucial to act quickly, lest Syria's chemical weapons fall into the hands of extremists who hate America.

"If we do not... end this war before these chemical weapons flow out of Syria, not only will Israel be in the crosshairs of radical Islamists with weapons of mass destruction capabilities," he said."It is only a matter of time that they come here."


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