Jordan and the United States are collaboratively preparing a strategy for securing Syria's considerable arsenal of chemical and possibly biological weapons in the event an Arab peacekeeping force is approved to enter the violence-wracked nation, the Wall Street Journal reported on Friday (see GSN, March 8).
In that scenario, Jordanian special forces teams would be assigned to find and protect close to 12 WMD-related facilities located in Syria, Arab and U.S. officials told the newspaper.
Washington and Amman have a track record of joint special forces cooperation. Jordan also has a robust intelligence operation and its specialized military personnel routinely conduct maneuvers with their U.S. counterparts.
"They would be real good" at working within Syria, a high-ranking U.S. official said of Jordan's commandos.
While it has never declared a chemical weapons capability, Syria is understood to possess a large and active arsenal comprised of nerve and blister agents that could be dispersed by artillery rounds, air-dropped munitions, and missiles, possibly including SS-21 and Scud ballistic missiles. Those depots are supported by chemical agent production plants and related research centers. The majority of chemical weapon-related facilities are thought to be spread out in the center and north of the country, including in cities such as Homs and Hama that have experienced significant violence.
Less is known about the country's suspected development of weaponized disease agents.
In February, the U.S. Defense Department hosted a group of senior Jordanian military officers for talks on the danger of Syria's unconventional weapons stockpiles, U.S. and Jordanian officials said.
Ongoing regime violence against Syrian opposition forces has seriously worried Washington and Middle Eastern capitals that criminal elements or regional militant organizations could attempt to acquire chemical arms in the event the government loses control of the weapons sites. There is also fear that President Bashar Assad could order chemical attacks on civilian protesters and insurgents if he feels his regime is near collapsing.
Obama administration officials emphasized that they and their Jordanian counterparts do not anticipate sending in specialized teams to secure Syrian WMD stockpiles absent a broader peacekeeping force that would be authorized by Damascus to enter the nation.
"Anything of that nature has to be done in a permissive environment," an unidentified U.S. official with familiarity on the joint planning said. "If you do not have a permissive environment, you will have a hard time getting anyone to go in. ... No one is going to want to fight their way in through bad stuff, like chem and bio weapons."
High-ranking military officials have said they are concerned Syrian weapons of mass destruction could be acquired by Hezbollah in neighboring Lebanon. "If left unsecured, it would be, potentially, a very serious threat in the hands of ... Lebanese Hezbollah," Navy Adm. William McRaven, who leads the U.S. Special Operations Command, said tol lawmakers on Wednesday.
President Obama and his national security adviser, Thomas Donilon, have held a number of talks in recent weeks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the danger of Syrian weapons proliferation.
Officials in Washington think there is a chance the Arab League could secure a deal with Damascus that would enable a number of regional countries to supply troops to stabilize Syria. Such an agreement is seen as more likely to happen if Assad views it as the best option allowing him to remain in command (Solomon/Barnes, Wall Street Journal, March 9).
Jordan and the United States are collaboratively preparing a strategy for securing Syria's considerable arsenal of chemical and possibly biological weapons in the event an Arab peacekeeping force is approved to enter the violence-wracked nation, the Wall Street Journal reported on Friday.