U.S. trains rebel brigades to secure chemical weapons

Syria Deeply reports: The US and its allies have hired contractors to train some Syrian rebel brigades in chemical weapons security, Syria Deeply has exclusively learned from four diplomats, including one US official. The sources asked to remain anonymous, as they deal directly with developments in Syria. The training would mark a higher level of coordination between the US and armed opposition forces, working to secure Syria’s chemical arsenal during a period of political turmoil.

The diplomatic sources say defense contractors hired by the US and its European allies have recently conducted training exercises with Syrian rebel forces in Turkey and Jordan. The programs were intended to prepare brigades to handle chemical weapons sites and materials they might encounter, as Assad troops lose control of over parts of the country. US contractors have also been on the ground in Syria to monitor the status of regime stockpiles, said an employee with a major US defense consultancy that has been engaged in that work.

“They’re probably trying to provide near real-time surveillance at all these sites. There’s no point in limiting yourself,” said Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He emphasized that any training of rebel fighters would represent just one element of contingency planning underway and said it would be incorrect to assume that training rebels is “the only hope”.

The State Department affirmed its concern over Syria’s chemical weapons, concerns that have been discussed with opposition leaders, but would not comment directly on the details of this report. The Defense Department hasn’t responded to a request for comment on the revelations.

Tim Brown, a defense analyst with GlobalSecurity.org, said he would be “shocked” if the US did not already have covert counter-proliferation forces on the ground, working with allies and regime defectors to monitor chemical weapon stockpiles.

Brown, who is an expert in using satellite imagery to detect chemical weapons, said there is a limit to what satellite imagery and other aerial reconnaissance can reveal about the state of chemical weapons. Concerned countries would need “eyes on the ground” to evaluate the status of sites, especially if chemical weapons are being moved.

“What is the signature of the movements? Are there heavily guarded convoys? The smaller the movement, the harder it is to detect [from the sky],” Brown said. [Continue reading…]

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