Major Ground Force Likely Needed to Guard Syrian Chemical Arms: Pentagon

The U.S. Defense Department has projected that in excess of 75,000 military personnel might be needed to guard Syria's chemical weapons stocks against theft, CNN reported on Wednesday (see GSN, Feb. 16).

The U.S. Central Command developed the estimate as part of efforts to produce a number of alternatives for President Obama to consider in addressing the growing security situation in Syria.

The Assad regime has come under increasing international recrimination for its use of massive deadly force against civilian opposition forces and army defectors. The death toll after nearly a year of protests is presently estimated at between 5,400 and 7,000.

Protecting Syria's chemical weapons depots and production plants would be "extraordinarily difficult," an anonymous Pentagon official said to CNN. The Defense Department estimates Syria has 50 chemical arsenal and manufacturing facilities, which are supplemented by additional research institutions and storage depots. 

"Syria probably has one of the largest programs in the world," said Leonard Spector, deputy director of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies. "It has multiple types of chemical agents," he said, including nerve agents, chlorine and phosgene.

Open source information going back to the 1980s indicates Syria has four chemical agent manufacturing plants at al-Safira, Hama, Homs and Latakia.  Two chemical munition storage sites are also believed to be located at Khan Abu Shamat and Furqlus, according to previous reporting.

Were the United States to actually send military personnel to Syria, the number of troops is not likely to be close to 75,000, CNN said. Obama officials maintain the administration is not presently considering a military intervention in the Arab state.

"In terms of a military action to secure a part of the country, that is not currently a policy we are pursuing," White House spokesman Jay Carney said on Wednesday.

The United States has assessed that Syria's chemical weapon-related states are still being guarded by Syrian soldiers loyal to the regime.

A high-ranking U.S. official said a "nightmare scenario" would involve the abrupt collapse of the Assad government or escalation in the conflict that requires other nations to send in troops to protect the chemical warfare materials.

Washington is particularly concerned about militants acquiring chemical arms following a partial or complete collapse of the Assad regime, a defense official said.

Though the United States "continues to monitor the overall situation in Syria," there are "ongoing discussions specific to the location of, and security around, the various components of their chemical weapons program," the official told CNN in an interview last week (Barbara Starr, CNN, Feb. 22).

February 23, 2012
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The U.S. Defense Department has projected that in excess of 75,000 military personnel might be needed to guard Syria's chemical weapons stocks against theft, CNN reported on Wednesday.

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