US warns against further 'militarization of Syria conflict

Only non-lethal assistance from the US

WASHINGTON - The United States Thursday warned against further "militarizing" the Syria conflict, a day after saying it could offer non-lethal military aid to rebels fighting the Damascus government.
Washington has argued that despite the humanitarian carnage in Syria, conditions are not ripe for a foreign intervention similar to the one in Libya, though it is looking for ways to help forces opposed to President Bashar al-Assad.
"We have made very clear that we do not believe that it is right at this time to contribute to the further militarization of the situation in Syria," White House spokesman Jay Carney said.
"We are pursuing a path with the Friends of Syria that we hope will bring a political resolution to the situation there," he said referring to an international coalition opposed to Assad's continued rule.
On Wednesday, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told lawmakers that Washington was considering sending non-lethal aid to rebels in what would be the first direct US assistance to forces seeking Assad's downfall.
"We're considering an array of non-lethal assistance," Panetta said.
Panetta condemned the regime's violent crackdown but expressed caution about military intervention, citing a lack of international consensus, a deeply divided resistance and the risk of fueling a civil war.
Some Republican lawmakers, including Senator John McCain, have called for foreign air strikes to support the Syrian rebels and warned that time is of the essence to protect threatened civilians.
Panetta, however, echoed Obama's view that the situation was different than Libya, where a NATO-led coalition carried out a bombing campaign last year that helped topple Moamer Kadhafi's regime.
In the case of Libya, there was strong support for intervention in the UN Security Council and within the Arab League, he said. But Russia and China have opposed punitive measures and the Arab League has stopped short of endorsing an air war over Syria.
Panetta also said the armed resistance in Syria was so fragmented that it was difficult to know who outside governments should recognize or contact, with roughly 100 groups identified as part of the opposition.