U.S., Allies Accelerating Plans to Secure Chemical Arsenal as Syrian Crisis Worsens
The Obama administration is accelerating its planning with Middle Eastern allies for a series of potentially fast-moving crises in Syria in the coming months, including the possible loss of government control over some of the country’s scattered stocks of chemical weapons, U.S. and Middle Eastern security officials say.
The planning, involving intelligence and military officials from at least seven countries, includes detailed arrangements for securing chemical arms with special operations troops in the event that parts of Syria are seized by militants, the officials said. Western and regional intelligence officials are increasingly concerned that Islamic extremists could attempt to seize control of whole towns and districts if the country slides into full-scale civil war.
The stepped-up preparations have coincided with increased military training in the region, including an unusually large multinational military exercise underway this month in Jordan, Syria’s southern neighbor. U.S. and Jordanian officials separately have been discussing possible permanent bases in the country for small units of Marines or special operations troops who could be deployed rapidly in a crisis anywhere in the region, from the Syria border to Iraq, according to current and former government officials familiar with the talks.
“There’s a big worry that things could fall apart quickly,” said a former U.S. intelligence official who has been briefed about the contingency plans and spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the diplomatically sensitive preparations. “A big problem can turn up on your doorstep overnight.”
Western intelligence agencies made similar plans to safeguard chemical munitions in Libya last year during the uprising there, particularly during the chaotic final weeks as Libyan troops deserted their bases ahead of the rebels’ final advance on Tripoli.