By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON – Defense Department officials are closely monitoring events in Syria, including the military exercises that began yesterday, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said today.
Media reports characterize the exercises as large-scale and simulating responses to external attacks on the nation’s forces.
“I don’t know that this military exercise suggests anything new about the conflict, or if it may simply be visual bravado on the part of the [Bashar] Assad regime,” Little said, responding to reporters’ questions during a regularly scheduled media briefing. Assad has ruled Syria since his father, Hafez al-Assad, died in 2000. The elder Assad had ruled for 29 years.
Little strongly repeated the department’s position on Syria, where the military has used lethal force in an effort to crush popular uprisings that began in January 2011. United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon estimates that as many as 17,000 people have been killed in the violence.
“This regime continues to mount despicable attacks against Syrian civilians, and the violence that the regime is perpetrating must end,” Little said. Defense officials have not yet classed the exercise as “provocative,” he noted, but he added that judgment could change based on events.
“What we view as much more serious, at this stage, is the continued wanton murder of Syrian civilians,” he said.
Little responded to a question on reports that Russia will halt arms sales to Syria, saying he can’t confirm that information. “We welcome any move by any nation to stop supplying the Assad regime,” he said.
The press secretary noted defense officials also are closely monitoring events on the Turkish-Syrian border. Tensions between the two countries have escalated following Turkey’s June 22 report that Syrian forces shot down a Turkish F-4 fighter jet and its two-member crew.
“We hope that this terrible violence in Syria doesn’t spread,” Little said. “We understand Turkey’s concerns, and we’ll continue to work closely with our Turkish allies.”