Former CIA Director David Petraeus spoke to Congress saying the United States establish enclaves in Syria where a moderate rebel force could operate and where displaced Syrians could find refuge. On Tuesday, the retired Army General also apologized for for sharing classified information with his biographer-mistress. He was director of the CIA from September 2011 to November 2012, when he resigned after acknowledging an affair with Paula Broadwell, a married U.S. Army reserve officer who met Petraeus while researching a book about his wartime leadership in Iraq and Afghanistan.
This is his first public appearance since resigning as CIA director. Petraeus offered the Senate Armed Services Committee his recommendations for how to address problems in the Mideast, which he said unlike Las Vegas “what happens in the Middle East is not going to stay in the Middle East.” Petraeus called for enhanced U.S. support for Iraqi security forces and Sunni tribal and Kurdish fighters. Within Syria, he urged the United States to take a stronger stance against President Bashar Assad, warning the Syrian leader that if he continues dropping barrel bombs, the U.S. will stop the Syrian air force from flying.
We have that capability,” Petraeus said. “It would demonstrate that the United States is willing to stand against Assad and it would show the Syrian people that we can do what the Islamic State cannot — provide them with a measure of protection.”
Petraeus lamented that the U.S. is no closer today to having a moderate Sunni Arab ground force than it was a year ago. Top U.S. military officials say a handful of U.S.-trained Syrian rebels are still on the battlefield fighting the militants — far short of the U.S. goal to train and equip 5,400 rebels a year at a cost of $500 million.
The central problem in Syria is that Sunni Arabs will not be willing partners against the Islamic State unless we commit to protect them and the broader Syrian population against all enemies, not just IS,” Petraeus said. “That means protecting them from the unrestricted warfare being waged against them by Bashar Assad, especially by his air force and its use of barrel bombs.”
During his discussion on Iraq, Petraeus offered the suggestion fo embedding U.S. advisers down to the brigade headquarters level for Iraqi fighting forces, exploring the use of air controllers with select Iraqi units to coordinate coalition airstrikes, and and examining whether U.S. rules of military engagement for precision airstrikes are too restrictive.
Mr. Petraeus argued that it was important to pursue a diplomatic solution to the Syrian conflict but asserted that the White House had failed to take military steps that would put pressure on the Syrian leader and facilitate a political resolution to the bloody conflict.
It is frequently said that there is ‘no military solution’ to Syria or the other conflicts roiling the Middle East,” Mr. Petraeus told the Senate Armed Services Committee. “This may be true, but it is also misleading. For, in every case, if there is to be any hope of a political settlement, a certain military and security context is required, and that context will not materialize on its own. We and our partners need to facilitate it — and over the past four years, we have not done so.”
During his tenure as the C.I.A. director, General Petraeus offered the idea of mounting a covert program to train and arm moderate Syrian rebels. After a lengthy delay, the White House approved the effort. That program and the Pentagon’s program to train and arm Syrian rebels to combat ISIS has failed to alter the course of the Syrian conflict. Mr. Petraeus said the United States must be prepared to push back against Iran’s support for the Assad government and for extremist militias in the Middle East — a point that Mr. Obama also made in arguing for the nuclear accord with Iran.