The prospect of Syria’s chemical arsenal falling into the hands of extremist Islamists among the rebels fighting the country’s bloody civil war is a matter of mounting concern for the West.More at that top link.
General Sir David Richards, the head of the British military, has raised his worries in Whitehall in recent weeks and there has been a series of meetings over the issue between European and American officials and governments in the region.
The possibility that President Bashar al-Assad may unleash such weapons was one of the key reasons given for the deployment this week of Nato Patriot missiles to the Turkish border.
At the end of last year Barack Obama warned that the use of chemical weapons would mean the Assad regime had crossed a ‘red line’ and must bear the consequences. The regime appeared to have stopped on its tracks in preparing such attacks and defence secretary Leon Panetta stated subsequently that the threat has been reduced.
Although the US and UK governments still hold that a beleaguered regime on its last legs may use weapons of mass destruction (WMD) there is also the clear danger of jihadist fighter getting possession of stockpiles. The Obama administration has prescribed the Al-Nusra Brigade, one of the strongest of the rebel groups and one which declares itself affiliated to al-Qa’ida, as a terrorist organisation.
An SAS team is believed to have attended as observers an exercise carried out by US and Jordanian special forces in preparation for any operation which may have to be undertaken to secure the stockpiles. Defence sources in London stated there are no plans at present to deploy British personnel for such a mission. ( please keep in this paragraph).
There is bound to be public scepticism about claims of the Syrian regime and WMDs after the exposure of similar false reports about Saddam Hussein’s arsenal used by the Bush and Blair administrations to justify the invasion of Iraq.
Western officials insist, however, that there is ample evidence that the Damascus regime has the means to carry out chemical warfare and also evidence, of a more limited nature , that it has a biological warfare programme. One cause of apprehension is that the regime’s command and control for WMDs have been severely damaged by casualties and defections.
And see "'Chemical weapons were used on Homs': Syria's military police defector tells of nerve gas attack."