The opposition Free Syrian Army said it did not find any chemical weapons at the first installation. But the developments have fanned fears that even if Assad does not attack his own people with chemical weapons, he is on the verge of losing control of his formidable arsenal.
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-
The Pentagon has drawn up plans for responding to possible scenarios involving Syria’s chemical arms, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said Friday during a visit to Incirlik Air Base in Turkey, about 60 miles from the Syrian border. He declined to give details.
Defense officials, however, said in interviews that they have been updating their contingency plans in recent weeks as chaos has overtaken Syria. They said they are working closely with Israel, Jordan and NATO allies, including Turkey, to monitor dozens of sites where Syria is suspected of keeping chemical arms and to coordinate options to intervene if necessary.
Pentagon officials have described their plans to members of Congress in classified briefings. In public, military officials have indicated that they are preparing for potential joint operations with the Jordanian and Turkish armed forces, while sharing intelligence with Israel. U.S. officials also have sought to enlist the cooperation of Russia, which has a close military relationship with Syria and helped develop its chemical weapons program decades ago.
Meanwhile, the U.S. government and some European allies have hired private contractors to train Syrian rebels how to monitor and secure chemical weapons sites should Assad abandon or lose control of any of his stocks, according to CNN. A State Department spokeswoman declined to comment on the report.