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McCain calls for US-led airstrikes on Assad forces

Senator John McCain calls for an end to "the slaughter of innocent lives" in Syria through a US-led international effort to protect the population while launching airstrikes on Assad forces.

Arizona Sen. John McCain called for American-led airstrikes on President Bashar Assad's forces in Syria. McCain says the goal of the U.S.-led air strikes should be to establish and defend safe havens for delivering humanitarian and military aid in Syria.

"Providing military assistance to the Free Syrian Army and other opposition groups is necessary, but at this late hour, that alone will not be sufficient to stop the slaughter and save innocent lives," McCain said. "The only realistic way to do so is with foreign air power."

McCain called for the airstrikes in a Senate floor speech on Monday afternoon.

The speech emphasized that "the United States should lead an international effort to protect key population centers in Syria, especially in the north, through airstrikes on Assad's forces."

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"To be clear: This will require the United States to suppress enemy air defenses in at least part of the country," McCain said.

The Arizona senator added that the mass atrocities that NATO intervened in Libya to prevent in Benghazi are now a reality in Homs. "Indeed, Syria today is the scene of some of the worst state-sponsored violence since Milosevic’s war crimes in the Balkans, or Russia’s annihilation of the Chechen city of Grozny," he said.

McCain commended the Obama administration's efforts in orchestrating international sanctions against the Assad regime, but added that the policy of diplomacy is increasingly disconnected from the dire conditions on the ground in Syria.

"In the face of this new reality, the Administration’s approach to Syria is starting to look more like a hope than a strategy," he said. "So, too, does their continued insistence that Assad’s fall is ‘inevitable.’"

Read the full text of Sen. John McCain's remarks

The conflict in Syria started last March with protests calling for the ouster of authoritarian President Assad in some of the country's impoverished hinterlands.

The protests spread as the government waged a bloody crackdown on dissent, and many in the opposition have taken up arms to defend themselves and attack government troops. The U.N. says more than 7,500 people have been killed in the uprising.

McCain explained that the United States also has a clear national security interest in stopping the violence in Syria and forcing Assad to leave power. The current regime supported Palestinian terrorist groups and funneled arms to Hezbollah in Lebanon, he said, adding that it also remains a committed enemy of Israel.

“The ultimate goal of airstrikes should be to establish and defend safe havens in Syria, especially in the north, in which opposition forces can organize and plan their political and military activities against Assad," McCain said.

Since Russia and China vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution on Syria, a concerted course of action similar to the one in Libya is not likely, but McCain said a joint military mandate is still feasible. He gave the example of NATO's 1999 intervention in Kosovo, which took place without a formal authorization from the U.N.

"The Syrian people deserve to succeed, and shame on us if we fail to help them,” the senator concluded.

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