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WP In 2012: Assad Could Lose Control Of WMDs

A flashback from the archives of the Washington Post:

U.S. plans for possibility that Assad could lose control of chemical arms cache

By Craig Whitlock and Carol Morello | December 16, 2012

As Bashar al-Assad’s hold on power steadily weakens, U.S. officials are increasingly worried that Syria’s weapons of mass destruction could fall into the hands of Islamist extremists, rogue generals or other uncontrollable factions.

Last week, fighters from a group that the Obama administration has branded a terrorist organization were among rebels who seized the Sheik Suleiman military base near Aleppo, where research on chemical weapons had been conducted. Rebels are also closing in on another base near Aleppo, known as Safirah, which has served as a major production center for such munitions, according to U.S. officials and analysts

Bear in mind that these two bases are different from the base that also has chemical weapons, which the rebels overran in the late summer of 2012. And the one that Leon Panetta was asked about in September 2012.

The opposition Free Syrian Army said it did not find any chemical weapons at the first installation.

Why would they admit it if they had?

A former Syrian general who once led the army’s chemical weapons training program said that the main storage sites for mustard gas and nerve agents are supposed to be guarded by thousands of Syrian troops but that they would be easily overrun.

The sites are not secure, retired Maj. Gen. Adnan Silou, who defected to the opposition in June, said in an interview near Turkey’s border with Syria. “Probably anyone from the Free Syrian Army or any Islamic extremist group could take them over,” he said.

President Obama and other leaders have warned Assad not to use chemical weapons, saying such a move would be a “red line” that would force them to take military action. But the White House has been vague about whether and how it would respond if Assad is toppled and Syria’s chemical weapons are left unprotected or end up in the hands of anti-American insurgents

Don’t worry. That could never happen.

In Libya, Gaddafi had a much smaller chemical stockpile, mostly precursor ingredients for mustard gas. Unlike Syria, Libya had signed an international treaty under which it had declared its chemical warfare materials and begun destroying them. Even so, in January, international inspectors discovered an undeclared cache of chemical munitions.

In a potential lesson for planning on Syria, the United States, NATO and other allies also were unable to secure Libya’s extensive stockpiles of rocket launchers and other conventional weapons, many of which were seized by militias or smuggled out of the country…

So it’s not far-fetched that the Syrian rebels could grab some chemical weapons in the middle of a raging war.

Although the basic contours of Syria’s chemical weapons program have been described for years in congressional testimony and independent reports, analysts cautioned that the extent and precise nature of the stockpile remain a mystery.

Analysts estimated that the country has several hundred tons of mustard gas and highly toxic nerve agents, predominantly sarin… The arsenal is so vast that it could take 1,000 outside inspectors and specialists just to monitor the condition of each site and take an inventory, said Leonard Spector, deputy director of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies…

As the Syrian opposition steadily makes territorial gains, U.S. officials and analysts said the odds are increasing that insurgents will seize control of a chemical weapons site or that Syrian troops guarding the installations will simply abandon their posts.

“It’s almost inevitable,” [Michael Eisenstadt, a retired Army officer who directs the military and security studies program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy] said. “It may have already happened, for what we know.” …

Assad’s government has warned that rebels affiliated with al-Qaeda may be on the cusp of acquiring chemical weapons.

Last week, the Syrian Foreign Ministry said the al-Nusra Front — an anti-Assad group that has been labeled a terrorist organization by the United States and is also known as Jabhat al-Nusra — had seized a chlorine factory near the town of Safirah, east of Aleppo. “Terrorist groups may resort to using chemical weapons against the Syrian people,” the ministry cautioned.

The chlorine factory, known as the Syrian-Saudi Chemicals Co., is near the same town as a major chemical weapons production and research complex, also known as Safirah, analysts said. It is unclear whether munitions are stored there as well.

So it’s not so clear cut that the rebels had no access to chemical weapons, after all.

This article was posted by Steve Gilbert on Wednesday, September 4th, 2013. Comments are currently closed.

One Response to “WP In 2012: Assad Could Lose Control Of WMDs”

  1. “Analysts estimated that the country has several hundred tons of mustard gas and highly toxic nerve agents, predominantly sarin… The arsenal is so vast…..”

    Boy, it sure sounds as though Syria has enough chemical weapons to supply two countries. Funny that.




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