Thursday, 6 December 2012

SYRIA: '' Syrian Chemical weapons'': The Inevitability of NATO and US military action

The international community is panic-stricken this week by the reports that Bashar al Assad might be envisageing to use Syria stockplied chemical weapons (CW) to crash the armed opposition and different fractions of the rebels and terrorists within Syria. Assad regime threatened earlier this month that chemical or biological weapons, stored and under the security and direct supervision of the Syrian armed forces, might be used if Syria is exposed to external aggression.

That statement was notable for a number of reasons. Firstly, because it was the first time a Syria acknowledged what the world has long know-that Syria has stockpiled chemical weapons (CW). Secondly, because everyone’s worst fear- the possibility of their use- was not only mentioned but also confirmed, at least in reaction to a foreign intervention. Furthermore, besides the statement itself, Syria’s state of civil war inevitable leads to fears that the regime will loss control of its chemical weapon stockpiles.

This scenario is all the more troubling given the alleged presence of al-Qaeda linked fighters in the country. Things are speeding up for ground operation to secure Syria chemical or biological weapons before they land on the hands of anti-US terrorists in Syria, but also to ward off Syrian chemical or biological weapons attack to spill over Turkey and Israel.

NATO approved to deploy Patriots missiles near the Syrian-Turkey border on Tuesday. Today German approved to deploy its Patriots missiles and 500 soldiers to contribute to NATO's forces. The protection from NATO will be three dimensional; one is the short-range Patriots, the second is the middle-range Terminal High Altitude Air Defense system and the last is the Aegis system, which counters missiles that can reach outside the atmosphere.

The US has hinted out that US would not hesitate for ground operation if Syrian president, Bashar al Assad decides to use chemical weapons against the opposition. The USS Eisenhower, an American carrier that holds eight bomber squadrons and 8,000 men, arrived at the Syrian coast yesterday in the midst of heavy storm, indicating US preparation for a potential ground operation.

If the US decides to intervene militarily in Syria, it has now at its disposal 10,000 fighting men, 17 warship, 70 fighter-bombers, 10 destroyers and frigates and a guided military cruises. Some of the vessels are also equipped with Aegis missile interceptors to shoot down any missiles Syria might have at hand.

Syria's chemical weapons program is shrouded in secrecy. Very little is known about the size of its stockpiles or their exact locations. What is known is that it has developed Sarin and Mustard gas and possibly VX and Cyanide. It is estimated that Syria has four production facilities located near Aleppo, Hama, Homs and Latakia, along the coast, as well as scores of storage facilities, spread around the country. The problem is no one knows their exact location, making it difficult for the international community to initiate a limited military excursion aimed at securing these materials.

The lack on intelligence and resources limits the options to secure Syrian chemical weapons. Perhaps the most ''popular option is airstrikes. But a military strike is risky, especially when the location and size of the facilities are unconfirmed and Syria has a robust air defense system in place.
Futher contributing to these difficulties is the possibility that air strikes will have the perverse effect on releasing agents into the atmosphere or that some munitions will survive even while the security forces guarding them perish.

The alternative would be to send ground special operation forces to physically secure the Syrian chemical weapons stockpiles. But this too is a difficult task. Once again, the intelligence would have to be watertight before any leader would send in troops and expose these soldiers and the country to the unrest. The number of troops needed would be considerable given the size and spread of Syria's program, and they would have to be properly trained and equipped to handle such sensitive materials in such hostile circumstances.

Neither option is attractive, which is why smaller measures must be taken to ensure that one of these worst-case scenarios can be avoided. The first is to deter both Assad from using them and the opposition from acquiring them.

Muscles are already there to be flexed, about NATO and US military's presence outside of Syria., although it's premature to say what could happen if a decision is made to intervene. That option has just taken shape. NATO and US are trying different options but military action could be launched rapidly within days. The question is no longer about the inevitability of military action in Syria but HOW that option will carried be out.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Political Analyst/Writer
Investigative Journalist