The United States and its allies are reportedly weighing a range of military options in Syria after the U.S. intelligence reports suggested that President Bashar al-Assad’s regime may be gearing up to deploy their stockpile of chemical and biological weapons in a last-ditch effort at survival.
The options currently being discussed range from aerial strikes to limited raids by regional forces to secure the stockpiles, the Associated Press reported, citing a U.S. government official and a former official, both speaking on condition of anonymity.
Syria might have begun processing chemicals that can be used to make the deadly sarin gas, another U.S. official told the AFP Monday.
“We've picked up several indications which lead us to believe that they're combining chemical precursors," aimed at making sarin, the official said, on condition of anonymity.
President Barack Obama, in a speech at the National Defense University Monday, warned Assad against using his arsenal.
"Today I want to make it absolutely clear to Assad and those under his command: The world is watching," Obama said. "The use of chemical weapons is and would be totally unacceptable. And if you make the tragic mistake of using these weapons, there will be consequences and you will be held accountable."
However, the Obama administration is reluctant to dispatch the U.S. forces into Syria, the U.S. officials told the AP. They added that a U.S. special operations training team is in neighboring Jordan, training the troops there how to secure sites, where the weapons of mass destruction (WMD) can be deployed.
The intelligence reports haven’t established that the regime was indeed planning to use their arsenal, but have raised concerns about its likelihood since the Assad regime is under greater pressure now than before, the AP has reported citing an unnamed official.
A Syrian foreign ministry spokesman Monday denied the allegations: "Syria confirms repeatedly it will never, under any circumstances, use chemical weapons against its own people, if such weapons exist."
Though the Syrian government was quick to defend itself, it acknowledged in July that it had chemical and biological weapons and that it would use them to repel any foreign attack after the U.S. intelligence reports suggested that the Syrian government had started moving parts of its chemical weapons supply out of the storage.
Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi said in July: "The ministry wants to re-affirm the stance of the Syrian Arab Republic that any chemical or bacterial weapon will never be used — and I repeat will never be used — during the crisis in Syria regardless of the developments...These weapons are stored and secured by Syrian military forces and under its direct supervision and will never be used unless Syria faces external aggression."
Syria was believed to own one of the largest undeclared stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons in the world, including the sarin nerve agent, mustard gas and cyanide, the New York Times reported in July citing a U.S. official who had been monitoring intelligence reports.
According to an intelligence report to the U.S. Congress covering January to December last year, Syria has had a chemical weapons (CW) program “for many years and already has a stockpile of CW agents which can be delivered by aerial bombs, ballistic missiles, and artillery rockets.”
This isn't the first time that the Syrian government has come under international scrutiny for the use of WMD.
The first and so far the only officially reported Syrian employment of chemical weapons was in 1982, during a conflict between the rebels of the Muslim Brotherhood and the ruling Alawite sect.
In February 1982, the Muslim Brotherhood clashed with the government forces under President Hafez al-Assad in the city of Hama. Over two weeks of violence resulted in the deaths of 7,000 to 35,000 people, including an estimated 1,000 soldiers.
Lethal cyanide gas was reportedly used by the Syrian regime in the slaughter of Sunni residents of Hama. Use of hydrogen cyanide was unsubstantiated, but reports in the 1980s suggested that hydrogen cyanide was used by the Syrian government against the insurgents.