US defense chief: Syria military must remain intact

WASHINGTON - Government forces in Syriashould be held together when Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is forcedfrom power, the US defense secretary said on Monday, warningthat the mistakes of the Iraq war must not be repeated.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, in an interview with CNNduring a visit to Tunisia, said maintaining stability in Syriawould be important under any scenario that sees Assad leavepower.

"I think it's important when Assad leaves, and he willleave, to try to preserve stability in that country," Panettasaid.

"The best way to preserve that kind of stability is tomaintain as much of the military and police as you can, alongwith security forces, and hope that they will transition to ademocratic form of government. That's the key."

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