* U.S. talking to allies and Syria's neighbors about
* Concern some chemical weapons could land with militants
* No plans for U.S. troops in Syria
By Mark Hosenball and Phil Stewart
WASHINGTON, Aug 16 The United States and its
allies are discussing a worst-case scenario that could require
tens of thousands of ground troops to go into Syria to secure
chemical and biological weapons sites following the fall of
President Bashar al-Assad's government, according to U.S. and
These secret discussions assume that all of Assad's security
forces disintegrate, leaving chemical and biological weapons
sites in Syria vulnerable to pillaging. The scenario also
assumes these sites could not be secured or destroyed solely
through aerial bombings, given health and environmental risks.
A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity to
explain the sensitive discussions, said the United States still
had no plans to put boots on the ground in Syria. President
Barack Obama's administration has, in fact, so far refused to
provide lethal support to the rebels fighting to oust Assad's
regime and the Pentagon has played down the possibility of
implementing a no-fly zone anytime soon.
"There is not a imminent plan to deploy ground forces. This
is, in fact, a worst-case scenario," the official said, adding
U.S. forces would likely play a role in such a mission.
Two diplomatic sources, also speaking on condition of
anonymity, said as many as 50,000 or 60,000 ground forces may be
needed if officials' worst fears are realized, plus additional
Even a force of 60,000 troops, however, would not be large
enough for peacekeeping and would only be the amount required to
secure the weapons sites - despite some of the appearances of a
Iraq-style occupation force, the diplomatic sources cautioned.
It is unclear at this stage how such a military mission
would be organized and which nations might participate. But some
European allies have indicated they are unlikely to join, the
The White House declined comment on specific contingency
plans. Spokesman Tommy Vietor said that while the U.S.
government believes the chemical weapons are under the Syrian
government's control, "Given the escalation of violence in
Syria, and the regime's increasing attacks on the Syrian people,
we remain very concerned about these weapons.
"In addition to monitoring their stockpiles, we are actively
consulting with Syria's neighbors - and our friends in the
international community - to underscore our common concern about
the security of these weapons, and the Syrian government's
obligation to secure them," Vietor said.
The Pentagon declined to comment.
POTENTIALLY DOZENS OF SITES
While there is no complete accounting of Syria's
unconventional weapons, it is widely believed to have stockpiles
of nerve agents such as VX, sarin and tabun.
The U.S. official said there were potentially dozens of
chemical and biological weapons sites scattered around the
Securing them could not be left to an aerial bombing, which
could lead to the dispersion of those agents, the official said.
"There could be second-order effects that could be extremely
problematic," the official said of aerial bombing.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said last month that it was
important that Syrian security forces be held together when
Assad is forced from power, citing, in particular, their ability
to secure chemical weapons sites.
"They do a pretty good job of securing those sites," Panetta
said in an interview with CNN in July. "If they suddenly walked
away from that, it would be a disaster to have those chemical
weapons fall into the wrong hands, hands of Hezbollah or other
extremists in that area."
The United States, Israel and Western powers have been
discussing the nightmarish possibility that some of Assad's
chemical weapons could make their way to militant groups -
al-Qaeda style Sunni Jihadi insurgents or pro-Iranian Shi'ite
Lebanese fighters from Hezbollah.
Some Western intelligence sources suggested that Hezbollah
and Iran's Revolutionary Guards, both close allies of Syria,
might try to get hold of the chemical weapons in the case of a
total collapse of government authority.
Syria began to acquire the ability to develop and produce
chemical weapons agents in 1973, including mustard gas and
sarin, and possibly also VX nerve agent.
Precise quantities and configurations of chemical weapons in
the Syrian stockpile are not known. However, the CIA has
estimated that Syria possesses several hundred liters of
chemical weapons and produces hundreds of tonnes of agents
The Global Security website, which collects published
intelligence reports and other data, says there are several
suspected chemical weapons facilities in Syria.
Analysts have also identified the town of Cerin, on the
coast, as a possible production site for biological weapons.