Panetta confirms that Syrians mixed chemical agents

U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta confirmed on Thursday that the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad mixed chemical agents into bombs or shells that could be used against the Syrian people.

Panetta said that while the chemical material remains put together, the U.S. has not seen intelligence that the weapons have been used deliberately against the Syrian population, ABC News reports.

"Our biggest concern was the intelligence we received -- that they were, in fact, putting together these ingredients into shells that could then be deployed against their own people," Panetta said, according to ABC News. "And that's when the president spoke out about it, expressed our concern and made very clear that that's a red line for us."

Prior to Thursday, U.S. officials would not confirm news reports from early December that elements of the Syrian regime mixed precursors to sarin gas into bombs near airfields in Syria. At the time, President Obama issued a warning to Assad's regime that it could face undetermined consequences if chemical munitions were used against Syrians.

Panetta estimated that it would take the Syrian regime a matter of hours to put the weapons onto use, depending on if they put the weapons on planes or loaded them into artillery.

Panetta said that the Obama administration continues to send a message to Assad's regime that these weapons must not be deployed against Syria's own people, ABC News reports.