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 sites.
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.
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