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Air Force ready to enforce no-fly zone in Syria

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Politics,Paul Bedard,Washington Secrets,The Pentagon,Syria

Amid calls on Capitol Hill for a U.S.-enforced no-fly zone over Syria to block future chemical weapon attacks, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff reveals that Air Force pilots have been training for the mission and he guaranteed that it could be done.

"Do I have the capability and the capacity to do it? The answer is yes," Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey said, adding: "Yes, you could establish a no-fly zone."

Calls from Congress have increased for military action in Syria as evidence has grown that the besieged leadership has used chemical weapons against its own citizens.

Dempsey said at a Christian Science Monitor media luncheon in Washington this week that the military has been training and practicing for involvement like establishing a no-fly zone and is ready if the order is given.

"We've been planning, we've been developing options," he said. "They are getting the training they need and it is perishable," the nation's top general said.

"Militarily, our task has been to continue to plan, continue to engage with partners in the region and to continue to refine options so that if we're asked to implement any of them we'll be ready to do that," he said.

But Dempsey added that he's not eager to get the order for a no-fly zone, in part because the air defenses around key government strongholds are thick with anti-aircraft weapons, and because it might not force a truce or settlement in the civil war.

What's more, since only 10 percent of rebel casualties are the result of Syrian airstrikes, he fears the military will then be urged to counter groundfire.

Still, he said, "none of these reasons are reasons not to take action."

While he didn't directly address congressional calls for a no-fly zone, the cautious general did joke: "I don't think we should put a no-fly zone on Capitol Hill."