Editors Notes: Implementation of a no fly zone in Syria will not secure Syrian chemical weapon depots. Troops on the ground will be required to secure the depots. Related Articles: Israel may use military force ‘to secure’ Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal, U.S. military completes initial planning for Syria, U.S. has plans for special operation teams to secure Syria chemical arms, Securing Syria chemical weapons may take tens of thousands of troops, Britain could be dragged into Syria conflict: 300,000-strong force would be needed for full-scale intervention, Securing Syria chemical weapons may take tens of thousands of troops
The Pentagon has told the Obama administration that any military effort to seize Syria’s stockpiles of chemical weapons would require upward of 75,000 troops, amid increasing concern that the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah has set up small training camps close to some of the chemical weapons depots, according to senior US officials.
The estimate, provided to the White House by the military’s Central Command and Joint Staff, stunned top administration officials. And it called into question whether the US would have the resources to act quickly if the movement of chemical weapons forced the US President, Barack Obama, as he said in August, to ”change my calculus” about inserting US forces into the most brutal civil conflict to emerge from the Arab uprisings.
So far Mr Obama has avoided direct intervention, and the Pentagon assessment was seen as likely to reinforce that reluctance.
The Pentagon has not yet been directed to draft detailed plans for how it could carry out such a mission, military officials say. There are contingency plans, they say, for securing a more limited number of the Syrian chemical weapons depots, requiring fewer troops.
News of the assessment came as Turkey joined France and the countries of the Gulf Co-operation Council – Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Qatar and Kuwait – in recognising the newly formed National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces as the ”legitimate representative of the Syrian people”.
”The reason behind the ongoing tragedy is the Syrian regime that has refused to acknowledge the legitimate demands of the Syrians and has chosen to try to rule its people by brutal force,” the Turkish Foreign Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, said in a speech at an Organisation of Islamic Co-operation meeting in Djibouti.
France said it would discuss its proposal to ease the European Union arms embargo on both sides in the 20-month conflict with its partners in the 27-nation bloc, but Russia said any such move would be a violation of international law.
The diplomatic manoeuvring came as the Syrian army pressed an operation in areas around Damascus to oust rebels clinging to gains they made in July, and as fighting raged around a key military airport at al-Bukamal, near the Iraqi border.
Hezbollah fighters had been training at ”a limited number” of sites close to the chemical weapons stockpiles, said one senior US official who has been briefed on the intelligence reports. ”But the fear these weapons could fall into the wrong hands is our greatest concern.”
One senior military official who has studied the problem said: ”The problem is that you can’t just pick this stuff up and ship it out of the country.”
The chances of contamination of nearby Syrian towns, and of attacks on the effort to move the weapons, were simply too high, he said.
As a result, much of the chemical stockpiles might have to be destroyed in place, he said.
That is a lengthy, dangerous job, and would require enormous force protection around the sites.