News / Middle East

Experts Assess Syria's Chemical Weapons Capabilities

Animal carcasses lie on the ground, killed by what residents said was a chemical weapon attack days earlier,Khan al-Assal Syria, March 23, 2013.Animal carcasses lie on the ground, killed by what residents said was a chemical weapon attack days earlier,Khan al-Assal Syria, March 23, 2013.
x
Animal carcasses lie on the ground, killed by what residents said was a chemical weapon attack days earlier,Khan al-Assal Syria, March 23, 2013.
Animal carcasses lie on the ground, killed by what residents said was a chemical weapon attack days earlier,Khan al-Assal Syria, March 23, 2013.
Western experts believe Syria has one of the world’s largest chemical weapons arsenals, including mustard gas, the more modern sarin and even VX - the most toxic of all chemical agents.

John Pike, head of Globalsecurity.com, an internet research firm, said the Syrian government also has the necessary means to deliver the chemical agents.

“They have ballistic missiles, artillery rockets, artillery shells and various bombs that could be dropped from airplanes. So however they would need to get it to the target, at least in the region, they could get it there.”

Experts said there is little hard data on Syria’s chemical weapons program because the country has not signed the Chemical Weapons Convention that outlaws the production, possession and use of such weapons. Most of the estimates come from intelligence agencies and analysts.

Chemical Weapons Stockpile Unknown

Pike said it is difficult to say where the chemical weapons stockpiles are being held.

“They had several main stock facilities, but they have been moving them around, said Pike. “Presumably they have moved them to locations that they believe are secure and the locations that they believe would enable them to be used quickly if needed.”

Last year, President Barack Obama warned the Syrian government not to use chemical weapons in its war against opposition forces - not to cross a red line. He said the use of chemical weapons would be a “game changer” - but he did not specify what action would be taken.

US Says Syria Used Chemical Weapons

The White House has now disclosed that U.S. intelligence agencies “assess with varying degrees of confidence that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons on a small scale in Syria, specifically the chemical agent sarin.” But at the same time, the administration said it would “seek to establish credible and corroborated facts” and “fully investigate any and all evidence of chemical weapons use in Syria.”

Charles Blair, a chemical weapons expert with the Federation of American Scientists, said it is much too early to say with confidence that the Syrian government has used chemical weapons against its people.

Difficult To Say If Syria Used Chemical Weapons

“You have elements within the Syrian military that are aligned with the rebel forces, whatever components there are - and they give them some quantity of sarin agent,” said Blair. “And then the guerilla forces, the opposition forces, which are in many cases jihadists, have every possible incentive to make it look like the Syrian government had used chemical weapons: every possible incentive - because the United States had made a red line.”

John Pike said “There is certainly the possibility that the use of this agent was not authorized at the highest level. It is curious that Syria would use a weapon of mass destruction without massively destructive effects. And I think the red line that the White House had been drawing, envisioned a rather more extensive and destructive use of poison gas than has been seen to date.”

UN Investigation Underway

The United Nations is currently investigating whether the Syrian government has indeed used chemical weapons. But analysts say that investigation has been shackled because U.N. inspectors have not been able to conduct their investigation in Syria.

Andre de Nesnera

Andre de Nesnera is senior analyst at the Voice of America, where he has reported on international affairs for more than three decades. Now serving in Washington D.C., he was previously senior European correspondent based in London, established VOA’s Geneva bureau in 1984 and in 1989 was the first VOA correspondent permanently accredited in the Soviet Union.

You May Like

Karzai's Legacy: Missed Opportunities?

Afghanistan's president leaves behind a much different nation than the one he inherited, yet his legacy from 13 years in power is getting mixed reviews More

Video Secret Service Chief Under Fire for White House Security Breach

Julia Pierson faces tough questions from lawmakers after recent intrusion at White House, says: 'It is clear that our security plan was not executed properly' More

Frustrated, Liberian Students Want Ebola Fight Role

Thousands have volunteered to go to counties, rural villages to talk to people in their language about deadly virus More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihadi
X
Mahi Ramakrishnan
September 30, 2014 2:16 PM
Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Iran's Rouhani Skeptical on Syria Strikes

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani expressed skepticism Friday that U.S.-led airstrikes in Iraq and Syria could crush Islamic State militants. From New York, VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports the president was also hopeful that questions about Iran’s nuclear program could be resolved soon.
Video

Video US House Speaker: Congress Should Debate Authorization Against IS

As wave after wave of U.S. airstrikes target Islamic State militants, the speaker of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives says he would be willing to call Congress back into session to debate a formal, broad authorization for the use of military force. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington, where legislators left town 10 days ago for a seven-week recess.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Video

Video Ebola Robs Liberians of Chance to Say Good-Bye to Loved Ones

In Liberia, where Ebola has killed more than 1,500 people, authorities have worked hard to convince people to allow specialized burial teams to take away dead bodies. But these safety measures, while necessary, make it hard for people to say good bye to their loved ones. VOA's Anne Look reports on the tragedy from Liberia.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid