WASHINGTON – The Pentagon has made contingency plans to ensure that Syria's massive unconventional weapons stockpiles are secure, the Los Angeles Times reported Thursday.
According to the report, the United States Department of Defense plans to send small teams of special operations troops into Syria should Washington feels that the depots are no longer secure, or that Syrian President Bashar Assad plans to use them on rebel forces.
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Syria's stockpiles of sarin nerve agent, mustard gas and cyanide are considered the largest in the world.
Earlier this week, US President Barack Obama warned that any effort by Assad to move or use his arsenal of chemical munitions "would cross a red line," implying it may prompt military intervention by the US.
Experts believe that the toxicity of some chemical agents degrades significantly over time, so it is unclear how lethal the stockpiles are.
"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," a Pentagon official was quoted as saying.
According to the report, US intelligence indicated that "Syria's chemical agents can be delivered by aerial bombs, ballistic missiles and artillery rockets."
Although he did not make an explicit threat, Obama's statement about a possible military campaign could be considered as a direct warning to Assad, DC officials said.
However, "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," one senior official said.
The Pentagon believes that Syria's stockpiles seem well guarded – for now. "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.
Assad's government stated in the past that is has no intention of deploying unconventional weapons against the Syrian people, but it did implied they could be used against invading foreign troops.
"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 in July.
"These weapons are stored and secured by Syrian military forces and under its direct supervision and will never be used unless Syria faces external aggression."
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