As Syrian rebels advance, intervention holds promise

In the early stages of the conflict, rebels and forces of President Bashar Assad were mixed together and rebels had no clearly defined sanctuaries. That makes it difficult to identify targets and communicate with rebels.
“In the last month or two that’s really changed,” said James Phillips, an analyst at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative-leaning think tank.
More recently rebels show signs of controlling swaths of territory, including portions of Allepo, Syria’s largest city.
The White House has so far resisted calls for military intervention in Syria, relying instead on sanctions and international pressure. “I see no evidence of greater willingness in the White House or other Western capitals to intervene in Syria,” Phillips said.
However, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said over the weekend that neighboring Turkey and the U.S. are discussing a range of options, including establishing a no-fly zone.
In Libya, rebels were initially concentrated in the eastern city of Benghazi and early NATO airstrikes protected the opposition territory from being overrun by forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi, who were approaching the city gates. The NATO air campaign was considered instrumental in the victory of rebel forces over Gadhafi.
Analysts caution that the battle lines in Syria remain fluid. “There’s a little sense of growing consolidation of territory, but not like we saw in Libya,” said Jeffrey White, a military analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy
A no-fly zone would be a more limited response that would target Syrian regime aircraft, though it would also likely require attacks on Syria’s ground-based radar.
Analysts say a no-fly zone would not have the same impact as airstrikes on ground targets, but it would help rebels, since Assad’s forces seem to have stepped up the use of helicopters and attack jets recently.
The regime is relying on aircraft and artillery because its infantry forces are stretched thin, analysts say.
“The regime doesn’t have a lot … of quality infantry,” White said. “We see the regime using air power and artillery more and more.”
Syrian government forces have been using both jets and helicopter gunships to attack rebels. On Monday, Syrian rebels claimed they shot down a Syrian regime jet over eastern Syria. The government said the aircraft experienced mechanical difficulties and the pilot was forced to eject.
The White House has faced increasing political pressure to take stronger action in Syria. Sen. John McCain, a senior Republican on the Armed Services Committee, has called for the United States and its allies to launch airstrikes to protect safe havens in Syria.
Secure save havens would provide rebels with a place to train and rearm.
Getting international backing for any military intervention would be difficult. Russia and China have opposed a United Nations Security Council resolution to ratchet up sanctions against Assad’s regime.
Source: Associated Press

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