Pentagon insists US troops won’t take part in Syria inspections
By Carlo Muñoz - 09/15/13 05:14 PM ET
The Pentagon is adamant that any effort to dismantle Syria's chemical weapons stockpile will not involve American troops.
Even if diplomats reach an agreement on destroying the arms, keeping them secure will be a job for Syria's military, Pentagon officials insist.
"No matter what, [Syria] has an obligation" to account for its chemical weapons, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said Friday.
The regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad "owes this [much] to the international community," Little said.
Fears that there will eventually be American “boots on the ground” in Syria has made it harder for President Obama to secure backing for military action against the country.
Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in July told leaders of the Senate Armed Forces Committee that a significant deployment of ground troops would be needed to secure Syria’s chemical weapon sites if an operation of that kind were ordered.
"Thousands of special operations forces and other ground forces would be needed to assault and secure critical sites" in the country, Dempsey wrote in a letter.
Pentagon estimates at the time reportedly said 70,000 troops would be needed to lockdown Assad's chemical weapons program.
U.S. military commanders in the Mideast have drafted up a slate of options to address possible security challenges facing Washington and allied efforts to disarm Syria.
Central Command submitted their recommendations to U.S. diplomats before Secretary of State John Kerry's meeting on Saturday with Russian counterparts on taking control of Syria's chemical arsenal, a State Department official said Sunday.
The command's recommendations included "broad parameters . . . to give us some idea of the dimensions of the security challenge" tied to taking control of Syria's chemical stockpiles, Central Command's plans included "nothing very complex" in terms of actual operations to secure the regime's chemical sites, the official said.
The official did not comment as to whether the command's recommendations included plans for U.S. forces to secure those sites.
But DOD is adamant that U.S troops won’t be playing the part of weapons enforcer in the international deal that’s being hashed out between the U.S., Syria and Russia.
The sheer size and scope of Assad's chemical weapons stockpiles guarantees that any dismantling process would be long and difficult. Syrian military units are reportedly hiding portions of Assad's chemical weapons in anticipation of United Nations inspections.
Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, head of DoD intelligence, said Thursday it could take as long as seven years to fully account for Syria's stockpile if a deal is reached.
"I do not have a [high] level of confidence to get through this first iteration" of getting the weapons accounted for, he said.
"I'm hopeful that there's clear, cool-headed . . . very long-view thinking and decision-making done," on how to secure the Syrian weapon sites, Flynn said.
That said, "I'm not confident that it's going to happen overnight."
Some experts say the confrontation between the U.S. and Syria is likely to escalate if UN inspectors are thwarted in their mission, but one leading congressional backer of action against Syria says those fears are misplaced.
Rep. Mike Rogers, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, discounted the possibility of American troops securing weapon sites in Syria.
"I don't know anyone that's on our committee . . . has ever talked about the real feasibility or even the interest in trying to have 70,000 U.S. troops," Rogers said.
"That's nuts. It would be a horrible decision," he added.
But the Michigan Democrat did note that Washington would need a lot of help, particularly from Arab nations, to police the weapons.
"I think that they're willing to provide the support that we would need, including troops to go in and help secure those weapons systems, because they know how dangerous it is if [those weapons] proliferate.”
The State Department has traditionally been responsible for chemical weapons containment and security.
The last time U.S. forces were involved in a chemical weapons mission was during the early days of the Iraq War.
Thousands of American troops were tasked with finding and securing Saddam Hussein's chemical weapons caches, which were never found.
Most recently, U.S. officials had a particularly difficult time tracking and securing Libya's weapons stockpiles after the fall of former dictator Moammar Gadhafi in March 2011.
U.S. and NATO forces were unprepared to secure Libya's stockpiles of shoulder-fired rockets.
At the time U.S. intelligence allegedly picked up "worrying indicators" that the missiles, similar to the famous Stinger anti-aircraft missile that the United States supplied to the Afghans to defeat the Soviets, had made their way to Islamic terror groups operating in the region.
Months after Gadhafi's ouster, then Africa Command chief Gen. Carter Ham admitted some of those weapons were already in the hands of terror groups operating in North Africa and the Mideast.