Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Daniel Hinton/Department of Defense

Dempsey: Syria Is a ‘Long-Term Issue’

Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey says the problems in Syria aren’t going to go away any time soon. By Stephanie Gaskell

The civil war in Syria has been raging for two years now, and with the United States backing off a threat to strike the Assad regime over the use of chemical weapons after a United Nations deal was reached to secure the stockpile, it could be years – decades, even – before there is an end to the unrest, warns Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey.

"It's very complex, it's changing and most importantly we have to see it as a long-term issue," Dempsey told reporters during a trip to South Korea on Tuesday. "The issues that underlie this conflict will not be solved any time soon. I think we're looking at a decade of challenges in the region with Syria being the epicenter."

Since the Arab Spring, there have been uprisings in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and other countries in the region – but it’s been Syria that has seen the worst violence, with more than 100,000 killed, including hundreds in chemical weapons attacks.

But Dempsey cautioned not to “look at Syria as Syria, meaning it's not useful to look through the soda straw at the boundaries of Syria and believe you understand the situation” in the entire Middle East. "A conflict that started as a rebellion has been hijacked by extremists on both sides al Qaeda affiliates on one side and Lebanese Hezbollah on the other. The question seems to be what should we be doing to help our regional partners. And we are."

Dempsey said the United States is still trying to work with key allies to help bolster the moderate opposition in Syria.

"We've got incredible experience with building partners, and building military and police formations," he said. "And so we've been in discussion about whether if we could find a way to collaborate on ... the issue of whether we could develop a moderate opposition, in particular to stabilize some of the humanitarian issues in northern Jordan and southern Turkey."

Meanwhile, a team of inspectors from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons entered Syria on Tuesday to begin its work trying to secure chemical weapons sites, BBC reported. It won’t be easy. Seven out of the 19 chemical weapons sites declared by the government last month are in combat zones.