for US to Intervene in Syria'
U.S. Has Contingency Plans to Invade Syria.
The contingency plans call for sending U.S. special forces into
Syria to protect or destroy any unguarded stockpiles to keep
them from militants, officials say.
By David S. Cloud and Shashank Bengali
August 23, 2012 "Los
-- WASHINGTON — The Pentagon has made contingency plans to send
small teams of special operations troops into Syria if the White
House decides it needs to secure chemical weapons depots now
controlled by security forces loyal to President Bashar Assad,
senior U.S. officials said.
President Obama warned this week that any effort by Assad to
move or use his arsenal of chemical munitions in the country's
conflict would cross a "red line," implying it could prompt
swift U.S. intervention.
But Pentagon planners are more focused on protecting or
destroying any Syrian stockpiles that are left unguarded and at
risk falling into the hands of rebel fighters or militias
aligned with Al Qaeda, Hezbollah or other militant groups.
Securing the sites would probably involve stealthy raids by
special operations teams trained to handle such weapons, and
precision airstrikes to incinerate the chemicals without
dispersing them in the air, the officials said. U.S. satellites
and drone aircraft already maintain partial surveillance of the
U.S. intelligence agencies believe Syria has over the years
produced or acquired hundreds of tons of sarin nerve agent and
mustard gas, a blister agent, and has sought to develop VX,
another powerful nerve gas. The toxicity of some chemical agents
degrades significantly over time, so it is unclear how lethal
the stockpiles are.
Experts say the chemical agents are stored in bunkers and other
sites around the country. Four production facilities are near
the cities of Aleppo, Hama and Homs, all tinderboxes in the
17-month uprising, as well as the coastal city of Latakia, an
area considered a stronghold for Assad's Alawite religious sect.
An unclassified report by the director of national intelligence
this year said Syria's chemical agents "can be delivered by
aerial bombs, ballistic missiles and artillery rockets." But
Syrian rockets, including Scud missiles procured from North
Korea, are notoriously inaccurate, making them ineffective for
delivering a heavy concentration of toxic chemicals to a
They can be very effective, however, at creating chaos.
"The actual killing may be less important than the panic they
would induce," said Leonard Spector, who heads the James Martin
Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of
Although he did not make an explicit threat, Obama's comments at
the White House on Monday were widely seen as a direct warning
to Assad that the U.S. would take military action if necessary
to stop the use of chemical weapons. But officials said later
that no large-scale U.S. intervention is likely unless it is
part of an international coalition.
"You shouldn't interpret what Obama said to mean that there
would be automatic military action, but rather that we would
respond as part of an international effort," said one senior
Officials said Obama could make a unilateral decision, however,
to order special forces teams to stop weapons of mass
destruction from falling into the wrong hands.
Pentagon officials and senior military officers said the Syrian
stockpiles seem well guarded for now, and they stressed that the
White House has not ordered detailed planning of operations
aimed at securing the facilities.
"We have done contingency planning but we're not doing detailed
planning — identifying numbers [of troops], units and platforms
— until the White House tells us we need a specific plan for
this," a senior officer said.
Although U.S. officials said they are closely monitoring the
unconventional weapons sites, they also acknowledge the
stockpiles are large enough that some materials, such as small
artillery shells filled with chemical agents, could be relocated
without their knowledge.
U.S. officials told reporters last month that they had evidence
Syrian forces were moving some chemical arms, apparently to keep
them away from areas of fighting.
Assad's government has said it will not use chemical munitions
against the Syrian people, though it has implied they could be
used if foreign troops sought to intervene in the war.
"Any chemical or bacterial weapon will never be used — and I
repeat will never be used — during the crisis in Syria,
regardless of the developments," Jihad Makdissi, a Syrian
government spokesman, told reporters last month. "These weapons
are stored and secured by Syrian military forces and under its
direct supervision and will never be used unless Syria faces
Analysts say it's unclear how much of the chemical arsenal could
be deployed, and they note that the agents, particularly VX and
sarin, may have weakened if the regime isn't regularly refilling
its stocks. U.S. intelligence officials have said that Syria,
which is under international sanctions, relies heavily on
foreign sources for chemicals and other key parts of its weapons
The VX stockpiles maintained by former Iraqi dictator Saddam
Hussein's government had a shelf life of about six months, and
the sarin less than two years, the EU Non-Proliferation
Consortium, a network of European think tanks, said in a report
"To keep those sorts of quantities replenished, you have to have
a very robust program," said Charles P. Blair, a senior fellow
at the nonpartisan Federation of American Scientists, a
In response to a reporter's question Monday, Obama mentioned
Syria's biological weapons program. But that appears a minor
concern at this point.
In 2008, Army Lt. Gen. Michael D. Maples, then director of the
Defense Intelligence Agency, testified before Congress that
Syria had "a program to develop select biological agents as
weapons" and that the program was "in the research and
U.S. officials no longer appear to believe that Syria is
actively pursuing a biological weapons program. The unclassified
U.S. intelligence report this year said only that Syria had the
infrastructure to support the development of biological weapons.
Copyright © 2012, Los Angeles Times
Chemical Weapons 'Excuse for US to
Intervene in Syria'
By Liu Chang
With the hypocritical talks of eliminating weapons of mass
destruction in Iraq and protecting civilians in Libya still
ringing in the ears, such "red line" threats seem to have almost
become a signal for the United States and some of its Western
allies to sharpen their weapons before exercising
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