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Hagel, Gen. Dempsey Warn of Involvement in Syria

Mark Wilson/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey both warned Congress on Wednesday about the unintended consequences of a U.S. military intervention in Syria.

Appearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, both Hagel and Dempsey cautioned that a U.S. military intervention in Syria could have unintended consequences and should be reserved as a “last resort.”

Two years of fighting to bring down the regime of Syrian President Basher al-Assad have killed an estimated 70,000 Syrians and created a million refugees.  Both Democratic and Republican senators on the committee have advocated the Obama administration consider some form of U.S. military assistance to assist the Syrian opposition in the form of a no-fly zone or the establishment of a humanitarian aid corridor.

“We have an obligation and responsibility to think through the consequences of direct U.S. military action in Syria,” said Hagel. 

He added that “military intervention at this point could hinder humanitarian relief operations.  It could embroil the United States in a significant, lengthy, and uncertain military commitment.”

More importantly, Hagel warned that it could have “the unintended consequence of bringing the United States into a broader regional conflict or proxy war.”  He stressed that “the best outcome for Syria -- and the region -- is a negotiated, political transition to a post-Assad Syria.”

He later used blunter language in describing how all factors should be weighed in considering a U.S. military option in Syria.

“You better be damn sure, as sure as you can be, before you get into something, because once you’re into it, there isn’t any backing out, whether it’s a no-fly zone, safe zone, protect these -- whatever it is.  Once you’re in, you can’t unwind it.  You can’t just say, well, it’s not going as well as I thought it would go, so we’re going to get out," Hagel said.

Gen. Dempsey also told the committee that ”before we take action, we have to be prepared for what comes next.” 

He noted that the use of force in an area like Syria where the ethnic and religious divisions “dominate” is “unlikely to produce predictable outcomes.”  He explained that such a scenario “is not a reason to avoid intervention in conflict, rather, to emphasize that unintended consequences are the rule with military interventions of this sort.”

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio