WASHINGTON / BEIRUT
A Free Syrian Army fighter runs away to take cover from the exchange fire with regime forces. REUTERS Photo
U.S. military planners are studying contingency plans for a potential mission in Syria without precedent, securing the regime’s chemical weapons in the midst of a raging civil war, officials and experts said.
No military action is imminent at the moment, according to officials, but the Pentagon is grappling with an array of hellish scenarios that could emerge as the conflict escalates, with the Damascus regime possibly losing control of its chemical arsenal.
While U.S. military planning in the past has focused on searching out weapons of mass destruction in the hands of a hostile government, the situation in Syria raises the possibility of stockpiles falling into the hands of militant groups or desperate members of a threatened regime. “This is totally new territory historically. Never in history has a WMD-armed country fallen into civil war,” said Charles Blair of the Federation of American
Scientists. “This has never happened,” he told Agence France-Presse. President Barack Obama has suggested the use of chemical or biological weapons could trigger U.S. military intervention.
France mulls no-fly zone
Meanwhile, France signaled on Aug. 23 that it was prepared to take part in enforcing a partial no-fly zone over Syria. French
Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian urged the international community to consider backing a no-fly zone over parts of Syria, but cautioned that closing the Arab nation’s entire air space would be tantamount to “going to war” and require a willing international coalition that does not yet exist. He told France 24 television that Paris
would participate in a full no-fly operation if it followed international legal principles. But for now, he suggested that a partial closure - which U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Washington was considering - should be studied.