Syria: Bashar al-Assad has ‘spread chemical weapons around 50 sites’

An elite and secretive military unit compromised of members of President Bashar al-Assad’s Alawite sect has been moving nerve agents and munitions for several months, US officials told the Wall Street Journal in a bid to make them harder to track.

Officials said they were still reasonably confident about the location of most of the regime’s estimated 1,000 tons of chemical and biological agents, but had less certainty than six months ago.

Previously they were housed at several large facilities in the west of the country, but have been moved to the north and south as well as a few spots in the east.

The report raised questions about the feasibility of a Russian plan for Syria to yield all its chemical weapons in exchange for the removal of the threat of US military action.

Plans for a two or three day bombing campaign were drafted by President Barack Obama’s administration after the Syrian regime allegedly used sarin gas to kill up to 1,400 people in attack on the Damascus suburb Ghouta on Aug 21.

US officials also said the dispersal of highly dangerous materials by Unit 450, a branch of the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Centre, made any future US attack on Syria significantly more complicated.

Military planners would seek to send a message to Unit 450, which intelligence officials said controls and secures all Syria’s chemical weapons, while not weakening the unit to the extent that it loses control of parts of the stockpile, which would then be vulnerable to capture by jihadist or other rebel groups.

“Attacking Unit 450, assuming we have any idea where they actually are, would be a pretty tricky affair because…if you attack them you may reduce the security of their weapons, which is something we certainly don’t want,” said Jeffrey White, a defence expert at The Washington Institute, told the Journal.

John Kerry, the US Secretary of State, is meeting Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, in Geneva to discuss Russia’s proposals.

In a statement on Friday morning they said they hoped that talks on chemical weapons would help revive an international plan to end the war in Syria, which has claimed at least 100,000 lives.

Experts in weapons of mass destruction have highlighted the difficulty of securing chemical weapons in a war zone and warned that destroying Syria’s supplies could take several years.


This is a copy of the full article provided by The Telegraph

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