Thanks Hussein! Now you'll never get their chem weaponsscattering the chemical weapons to about 50 different sites around Syria.
The movements of chemical weapons by Syria's elite Unit 450 could complicate any U.S. bombing campaign in Syria over its alleged chemical attacks, officials said. It also raises questions about implementation of a Russian proposal that calls for the regime to surrender control of its stockpile, they said.
U.S. and Israeli intelligence agencies still believe they know where most of the Syrian regime's chemical weapons are located, but with less confidence than six months ago, U.S. officials said.
The unit is in charge of mixing and deploying chemical munitions, and it provides security at chemical sites, according to U.S. and European intelligence agencies. It is composed of officers from Mr. Assad's Alawite sect. One diplomat briefed on the unit said it was Alawite from "janitor to commander."
U.S. military officials have looked into the possibility of gaining influence over members of Unit 450 through inducements or threats. "In a perfect world, you would actually like to co-opt that unit. Who cares who pays them as long as they sit on the chemical weapons," said a senior U.S. military official.
Although the option remains on the table, government experts say the unit is so close knit that they doubt any member could break ranks without being exposed and killed.
The U.S. estimates the regime has 1,000 metric tons of chemical and biological agents. "That is what we know about. There might be more," said one senior U.S. official.
The regime traditionally kept most of its chemical and biological weapons at a few large sites in western Syria, U.S. officials said. But beginning about a year ago, the Syrians started dispersing the arsenal to nearly two dozen major sites.
Unit 450 also started using dozens of smaller sites. The U.S. now believes Mr. Assad's chemical arsenal has been scattered to as many as 50 locations in the west, north and south, as well as new sites in the east, officials said.
The U.S. is using satellites to track vehicles employed by Unit 450 to disperse the chemical-weapons stocks. But the imagery doesn't always show what is being put on the trucks. "We know a lot less than we did six months ago about where the chemical weapons are," one official said.
The movements, activities and base locations of Unit 450 are so sensitive that the U.S. won't share information with even trusted allies in the opposition for fear the unit would be overrun by rebels, said current and former U.S. officials.
If the Russians clinch a deal for Mr. Assad to give up his chemical weapons, any prospective United Nations-led force to protect inspectors and secure storage sites would likely need to work closely with Unit 450 and the research center, current and former administration officials said.
In addition to satellites, the U.S. also relies on Israeli spies for on-the-ground intelligence about the unit, according to U.S. and Israeli officials.
Though small in size, Unit 450 controls a vast infrastructure that makes it easier for the U.S. and Israel to track its movements. Chemical weapons storage depots are guarded by the unit within larger compounds to provide multiple layers of security, U.S. officials said.
Whenever chemical munitions are deployed in the field, Unit 450 has to pre-deploy heavy equipment to chemical mixing areas, which the U.S. and Israel can track.I would say that the odds of the US taking out Syria's chemical weapons - even in the unlikely event that Obama gave the order to go ahead with a strike - are very slim.
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