DEBKAfile – August 23, 2012
US C130 transports stand ready at Middle East air bases to fly into Syria US elite units especially trained in combat against chemical and biological weapons and tactics for securing their arsenals. Western intelligence sources reported Thursday, Aug. 23 that those units are on standby at bases in Israel and Jordan. Their assignments are to engage Syrian troops attempting to move those unconventional weapons systems to battle fronts or Hizballah and to prevent them falling into the hands of radical Islamic rebel fighters, especially Al Qaeda.
Those elite units have been issued with special equipment for chemical and biological warfare including anti-contamination suits. The transports are also fitted with purification equipment for operating in polluted terrain.
These plans followed President Barack Obama’s warning Monday, Aug. 20 that “we cannot have a situation where chemical or biological weapons are falling into the hands of the wrong people.” He announced, “We have put together a range of contingency plans.”
Also on standby for stealthy raids into Syria are British special operations forces in Cyprus and French units trained in unconventional warfare in Jordan. Thursday morning, President Obama talked by phone to British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Francois Hollande to wrap up the details of their combined operation in Syria, effectively the onset of direct Western intervention in the Syrian conflict.
The Pentagon had not by Thursday reacted to these reports, but did release photos of US special operations soldiers clad in anti-contamination suits standing by armored personnel carriers equipped for chemical and biological warfare. The American media were also briefed on US plans to land special operations teams trained in the handling of these weapons for missions to protect or destroy unguarded Syrian stockpiles before they fall into the wrong hands. They also refer to air strikes to incinerate chemicals without dispersing them in the air.
debkafile’s military sources report that alongside the US satellites and drone aircraft monitoring the chemical and biological weapons stores, small American reconnaissance teams are already on the ground, marking out landing sites and setting up bridgeheads for the incoming US, British and French special forces.
Some – though not all – of the targeted stockpiles of shells and missile warheads are located around centers of the fiercest fighting in Syria’s civil war such as Aleppo in the north. They may be inadequately guarded since the Syrian ruler may have been forced to throw the units securing them into battle against rebel forces.
Important stress was laid by Obama in his comments Monday on the fact that he had not ordered US military engagement in Syria “at this point.” In other words, beyond that point, he was free to change that order. debkafile’s military sources report that direct American military involvement in the Syrian conflict has to all intents and purposes begun and looks like expanding in the coming days.
This is a sharp reversal of the military situation in the Middle East. It could lead to all-out warfare exploding in Syria possibly involving Hizballah ahead of a strike against Iran’s nuclear weapons, although this strike could unfold from the Syrian campaign – during its course or at its conclusion.
Washington is hoping that its direct action in Syria, aside from grappling with the unconventional warfare menace looming over the region, may persuade Tehran to cave into American demands for halting uranium enrichment and turn it aside from its race for a nuclear weapon in order to save itself from attack.
The Obama administration is split between two factions on the Syrian question – those who are pushing hard for direct US military intervention – both to end the bloodshed and Bashar Assad’s reign in Syria and to preempt a unilateral Israeli strike against Iran. The other faction is dedicated to Obama’s anti-interventionist mindset.