Securing weapons sites in Syria may take tens of thousands of ground troops
Secret discussions between U.S. and diplomatic officials assume that all of Assad's security forces disintegrate, leaving chemical and biological weapons sites in Syria vulnerable to pillaging. Due to health and environmental risks, aerial bombing of the sites is not an option, Reuters reports.
According to a U.S. official speaking on a condition of anonymity, the United States did not have plans to put troops on the ground in Syria. President Barack Obama's administration has refused to provide lethal support to rebels fighting to overthrow Assad's regime.
"There is not a imminent plan to deploy ground forces. This is, in fact, a worst case scenario," the official said, according to Reuters. He added that U.S. forces would likely play a role in such a mission.
Other diplomatic sources speaking anonymously said that the project might require 50,000 to 60,000 ground forces. They added that the amount does not account for peacekeeping and would only be the amount required to secure the weapons sites.
Some European allies have indicated that they are unlikely to join in such an effort, making it unclear how such a military mission would be organized and which allies might participate.
"Given the escalation of violence in Syria, and the regime's increasing attacks on the Syrian people, we remain very concerned about these weapons," White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said, Reuters reports. "In addition to monitoring their stockpiles, we are actively consulting with Syria's neighbors - and our friends in the international community - to underscore our common concern about the security of these weapons, and the Syrian government's obligation to secure them."
Syria is believed to have stockpiles of nerve agents such as VX and sarin, though an exact account of its weapons stockpile is unknown. U.S. officials said that there could be dozens of chemical and biological sites around the country.
Syria began acquiring and developing chemical weapons agents in 1973. Precise quantities and configurations of the weapons are unknown, though the CIA estimates the nation possesses several hundred liters of chemical weapons and produces tons of agents annually, Reuters reports.