Under aggressive questioning from Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.), Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said Tuesday that U.S.-backed Syrian rebels are not being attacked by Russia and that the U.S. does not currently have a concept of operations for a no-fly zone for Syria.
When McCain asked whether the U.S. has the obligation to protect the young people it trains and equips in Syria, Carter said that it does, but that those forces have not been attacked.
"Right now as we speak, Russian aircraft are bombing moderate Syrian forces in Syria, while we have de-conflicted. Do you believe we should be protecting those young people?" he asked.
"Our Title 10 forces, we have an obligation to protect," Carter said. However, the moderate Syrian forces "have not come under attack by either Assad's forces or Russia's forces."
McCain found Carter's statement hard to believe.
"None of the moderate forces, some of whom we have trained, have come under attack by Russia from the air?" McCain said. "That's fascinating."
McCain then asked Carter whether the Obama administration has recommended putting a stop to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's barrel bombing and setting up a no-fly zone in Syria.
"Are you recommending that we should stop the barrel bombing, as General Petraeus and former Secretary Gates and now Secretary Clinton have suggested, ... [and] provide an aircraft exclusionary zone, in order to protect the innocent civilians that are being driven into refugee status in the greatest refugee situation since the end of World War II?" he asked.
"We have not made that recommendation. The president has not taken it off the table," Carter said.
McCain pointed out that both suggestions have been recommended for "three or four years."
"It's not an issue that has not been examined, Secretary Carter," McCain said. "You have to examine it all over again?"
"We've looked at it quite closely," Carter said.
"It seems to me you should have a position on it," he said when Carter continued to dodge his questions. After further questioning, Carter admitted that the administration does not "have a concept of operations."
"We do not have a concept of operations for a no-fly zone at this time," Carter said.
McCain, again, was in disbelief.
"After all these years, we don't have a concept of operations," he said.