CNN disclosed last night that Syria’s Bashar al-Assad regime was moving its chemical weapons stockpile around the country, less than a day before Damascus provided inspectors with an “initial declaration” describing the unconventional weapons program. One Obama administration officials who spoke to CNN found the news cause for either comfort or alarm:
“There is activity at known chemical weapons storage sites,” one official said. “What is unclear is whether they are moving them to consolidate the stockpile and then declare it, or are they moving it around to conceal it” in advance of reporting it to international inspectors. U.S. satellites have observed truck convoys moving in and out of storage sites, but the ongoing intelligence challenge involves knowing where the trucks are headed and exactly what they are carrying, that official added.
A CNN clip on the issue is embedded below. Some Syria experts expressed frustration at the suggestion that Assad’s motives were inscrutable.
This week was not the first time that the Syrian army has moved around its chemical arsenal. Unit 450, the Syrian army unit in charge of chemical weapons, has been quite busy in recent months. The Wall Street Journal recently described the unit’s activities, and – like CNN’s report – noted that the result was to undermine the reliability of U.S. intelligence assessments:
Basically, the Journal reports, a subset of the Syrian military wing responsible for managing the country’s chemical weapons supplies started moving around their stash months ago. Those moves lasted through last week, when a U.S. strike on Syrian targets related to the country’s chemical weapons program seemed inevitable. The U.S. can track the movements of the force in charge of guarding them, but can’t precisely determine what is being moved where. The effect: the U.S. isn’t quite as sure as they were six months ago that they know exactly where those weapons are.