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Syria loads chemical weapons into bombs; military awaits Assad's order

By Jim Miklaszewski and M. Alex Johnson, NBC NewsThe
Syrian military is prepared to use chemical weapons against its own
people and is awaiting final orders from President Bashar Assad, U.S.
officials told NBC News on Wednesday.

The military has loaded the precursor chemicals for
sarin, a deadly nerve gas, into aerial bombs that could be dropped onto
the Syrian people from dozens of fighter-bombers, the officials said. As
recently as Tuesday, officials had said there was as yet no evidence
that the process of mixing the "precursor" chemicals had begun. But
Wednesday, they said their worst fears had been confirmed: The nerve
agents were locked and loaded inside the bombs.Sarin is an
extraordinarily lethal agent. Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's forces
killed 5,000 Kurds with a single sarin attack on Halabja in 1988.


U.S. officials stressed that as of now, the sarin bombs hadn't been
loaded onto planes and that Assad hadn't issued a final order to use
them. But if he does, one of the officials said, "there's little the
outside world can do to stop it."Secretary of State Hillary
Rodham Clinton reiterated U.S. warnings to Assad not to use chemical
weapons, saying he would be crossing "a red line" if he did so.Speaking
Wednesday at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Clinton said the Syrian
government was on the brink of collapse, raising the prospect that "an
increasingly desperate Assad regime" might turn to chemical weapons or
that the banned weapons could fall into other hands."Ultimately, what we should be thinking about is a political
transition in Syria and one that should start as soon as possible,"
Clinton said. "We believe their fall is inevitable. It is just a
question of how many people have to die before that occurs."Aides
told NBC News that Clinton was expected next week to officially
recognize the main opposition movement, the National Coalition of Syrian
Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, with which she is scheduled to
meet in Morocco. Britain, France, Turkey and some key Arab leaders have
already recognized the opposition.Fighting intensified Wednesday
in the 21-month civil war, which has left 40,000 people dead. The U.N.
withdrew its personnel from Damascus, saying conditions were too
dangerous.The government said this week that it wouldn't use
chemical weapons on its own people after President Barack Obama warned
that doing so would be "totally unacceptable."<br>


But U.S. officials said this week that the government had
ordered its Chemical Weapons Corps to "be prepared," which Washington
interpreted as a directive to begin bringing together the components
needed to weaponize Syria's chemical stockpiles. That process
would involve mixing "precursor" chemicals for the deadly nerve gas
sarin, which could be used in artillery shells, U.S. officials told NBC
News, stressing that there was no evidence that process had as yet
begun.Watch World News videos on NBCNews.com

U.S.
officials had long believed that the Syrian government was stockpiling
the banned chemical weapons before it acknowledged possessing them this
summer.NBC News reported in July
that U.S. intelligence agencies believed that in addition to sarin,
Syria had access to tabun, a chemical nerve agent, as well as
traditional chemical weapons like mustard gas and hydrogen cyanide.Officials
told NBC News at the time that the Syrian government was moving the
outlawed weapons around the country, leaving foreign intelligence
agencies unsure where they might end up.Syria is one of only
seven nations that hasn't ratified the 1992 Chemical Weapons Convention,
the arms control agreement that outlaws the production, stockpiling and
use of such weapons.Bombshells filled with chemicals can be
carried by Syrian Air Force fighter-bombers, in particular Sukhoi-22/20,
MiG-23 and Sukhoi-24 aircraft. In addition, some reports indicate that
unguided short-range Frog-7 artillery rockets may be capable of carrying
chemical payloads.In terms of longer-range delivery systems,
Syria has a few dozen SS-21 ballistic missiles with a maximum range of
72 miles; 200 Scud-Bs, with a maximum range of 180 miles; and 60 to 120
Scud-Cs, with a maximum range of 300 miles, all of which are mobile and
are capable of carrying chemical weapons, according U.S. intelligence
officials.


Added: Dec-5-2012 Occurred On: Dec-5-2012
By: dcmfox
In:
Syria
Tags: syrian, military, load, chemical, weapons, bombs, await, orders
Location: Syria (load item map)
Views: 3859 | Comments: 112 | Votes: 0 | Favorites: 0 | Shared: 0 | Updates: 0 | Times used in channels: 1
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