Panetta: Iran Boosting Presence in Syria

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Iran is bolstering its presence in Syria in an effort to ease the pressure on the Syrian military from anti-government forces. “There’s now indications that they’re trying to develop or trying to train a militia within Syria to be able to fight on behalf of the regime,” Panetta told reporters during a Pentagon briefing on Aug. 14. “So, we are seeing a growing presence by Iran and that is of deep concern to us,” he added. The future of Syria should be up to the Syrian people, not Iran, said Panetta. He noted that the number of high-level defections from Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime lead him to believe that the Assad regime “ultimately, is going to come down.” Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey, who spoke alongside Panetta at the press conference, said the last 18 months of fighting have taken a heavy toll on the Syrian army. “Any army would be taxed at that kind of pace,” said Dempsey, noting that the Syrian army is likely facing resupply and morale problems. (Panetta-Dempsey transcript) (AFPS report by Nick Simeone)