The nation's top military officer has laid out five options the Obama administration is considering on Syria, including "limited" strikes against the Assad regime and an all-out campaign to secure chemical weapons that includes "thousands" of U.S. forces.
Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, revealed the options in a letter to Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich. The letter was sent as, on the other side of the Hill, the House Intelligence Committee signed off on the administration's call to arm the Syria opposition -- though the committee, which held that up for weeks, continued to voice reservations.
Dempsey's letter, released Monday, went far beyond arming the opposition in outlining potential options. He sent the letter after taking heat at last week's confirmation hearing from Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who pressed Dempsey for his advice on Syria while suggesting the administration had not done enough -- McCain threatened to place a hold on Dempsey's nomination until he got answers.
In the letter, Dempsey gave five options on Syria beyond providing humanitarian assistance, which the U.S. already is doing.
At the least invasive end, he said, is the option of training, advising and assisting the rebels. The next level up would be conducting limited strikes on "high-value regime" military targets.
The three other options are increasingly costly and risky.
- A no-fly zone, which according to Dempsey could cost up to a billion dollars per month and would include shooting down regime aircraft and conducting strikes on their airfields.
- The establishment of "buffer zones," which would be "specific geographic areas" where the opposition would safely organize and train. This would require thousands of U.S. ground forces, Dempsey said, "even if positioned outside Syria," to protect these zones.
- A campaign to secure chemical weapons. This would entail destroying portions of Syria's stockpile, interdicting shipments and seizing other components. At minimum, Dempsey said, this would include a no-fly zone and thousands of special operations and other forces to secure critical sites.
Dempsey stressed that these are just options that have been prepared, and that some options "may not be feasible in time or cost."
On another front, the House Intelligence Committee gave tentative approval toward arming the opposition.
Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Mich., said that despite "very strong concerns about the strength of the administration's plans in Syria and its chances for success" there was "consensus that we could move forward with what the administration's plans and intentions are in Syria consistent with committee reservations."
The Intelligence Committee had delayed the administration for weeks from fully implementing its Syria policy, including arming the rebels, Fox News has learned.
Fox also confirmed that a majority -- but not all -- of the Committee members signed off on moving forward with the plan.
House Speaker John Boehner, addressing the Syria crisis on Tuesday, said helping "the right set of rebels is in our nation's best interest."
It was not immediately clear how the new policy would be funded although money could be "reprogrammed" from other accounts, including possibly the defense spending bill.
Fox News' Chad Pergram contributed to this report.