Chemical crescendo

Updated December 7

A round-up of where we stand on Syrian chemical weapons, and who is claiming what:

Reuters, November 29:

The U.S. has collected what has been described as highly classified intelligence information demonstrating that Syria is making what could be construed as preparations to use elements of its extensive chemical weapons arsenal, two U.S. government sources briefed on the issue said.

NYT, December 1:

Western intelligence officials say they are picking up new signs of activity at sites in Syria that are used to store chemical weapons. … “It’s in some ways similar to what they’ve done before,” a senior American official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters. “But they’re doing some things that suggest they intend to use the weapons. It’s not just moving stuff around. These are different kind of activities.” … The official said, however, that the Syrians had not carried out the most blatant steps toward using the chemical weapons, such as preparing them to be fired by artillery batteries or loaded in bombs to be dropped from warplanes.

NYT, December 2:

One American official provided the most specific description yet of what has been detected, saying that “the activity we are seeing suggests some potential chemical weapon preparation,” which goes beyond the mere movement of stockpiles among Syria’s several dozen known sites. But the official declined to offer more specifics of what those preparations entailed.

Washington Post, December 3:

U.S. intelligence officials also intercepted one communication within the last six months they believe was between Iran’s infamous Quds Force, urging Syrian regime members to use its supplies of toxic Sarin gas against rebels and the civilians supporting them in the besieged city of Homs, the former U.S. official said. That report was not matched by other intelligence agencies, and other intelligence officials have said Iran also does not want the Syrians to use their chemical weapons.

AFP, December 4:

Syria has begun mixing chemicals that can be used to make deadly sarin gas, a US official told AFP Monday, amid fears that President Bashar al-Assad’s forces could attack rebels with chemical weapons … “We’ve picked up several indications which lead us to believe that they’re combining chemical precursors,” the official said, on condition of anonymity, adding that the operation was apparently aimed at making sarin.

NBC, December 5:

The Syrian military is prepared to use chemical weapons against its own people and is awaiting final orders from President Bashar Assad, U.S. officials told NBC News on Wednesday. The military has loaded the precursor chemicals for sarin, a deadly nerve gas, into aerial bombs that could be dropped onto the Syrian people from dozens of fighter-bombers, the officials said. As recently as Tuesday, officials had said there was as yet no evidence that the process of mixing the “precursor” chemicals had begun. But Wednesday, they said their worst fears had been confirmed: The nerve agents were locked and loaded inside the bombs … U.S. officials said this week that the [Syrian] government had ordered its Chemical Weapons Corps to “be prepared,” which Washington interpreted as a directive to begin bringing together the components needed to weaponize Syria’s chemical stockpile

And, concurrently, ABC, December 5:

Alarming intelligence about Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile earlier this week had to do with the apparent loading of elements of dangerous sarin nerve gas into bombs at Syrian airfields, a senior U.S. official said … American officials remain concerned by the Syrians’ intent behind the move, though their concerns have eased in the past 48 hours since the move became public … U.S officials stressed that over the past 48 hours there have not been any major movements at the chemical weapons sites that were of concern.

And, finally, The Times, also December 5:

A no-fly zone, ground troops and special forces form the main planks of British-American contingency plans drawn up over recent months in anticipation of a Syrian chemical attack … Special operations forces would be deployed, backed by a substantial number of support troops — perhaps as many as 75,000 — to seize or safeguard the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons facilities … “We have [US] special operations forces at the right posture, they don’t have to be sent,” a US official said, suggesting that those troops are already in the region.

Updates:

NYT, December 6:

The White House says the president has not changed his position at all — it is all in the definition of the word “moving.” Tommy Vietor, the spokesman for the National Security Council, said Thursday that “ ‘moving around’ means proliferation,” as in allowing extremist groups like Hezbollah, which has training camps near the weapons sites, to obtain the material …  The chief limitation, American and Israeli officials say, is that chemical weapons sites cannot be safely bombed. “That could create the exact situation we are trying to avoid,” said one senior American military official, who like several others interviewed would speak only on the condition of anonymity … Making things worse, many of the storage sites are near the border with Jordan, raising the possibility that any plume of chemicals created by an attack could drift over the territory of an American ally. Putting troops on the ground has never been a serious option, American officials say.

CNN, December 7:

CNN has learned that U.S. military options for a potential strike against Syria have been updated in the last few days after intelligence showed that the regime has filled aerial bombs with deadly sarin gas at at least two locations near military airfields … A senior U.S. official confirmed the details but declined to be identified because of the sensitive nature of the information. There has been no movement to put the bombs on aircraft and no significant additional movement of chemical materials as far as the U.S. knows, he said … The first intelligence on the chemical weapons movement in Syria came to light to the administration in the last week, when satellite imagery showed the movement of trucks and vehicles at sites where chemicals and weapons were stored. “We assume the aircraft are in close proximity to the munitions,” the official said … The U.S. also believes the order to fill the bombs was issued and carried out through the Syrian military chain of command, but it’s not certain if al-Assad was directly involved.

A military option could involve dropping bombs on runways to keep airplanes from taking off. Also, communications sites could be struck to cut al-Assad’s links to his troops so orders for a chemical attack cannot be issued.

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