This Elite Unit Is Hiding Syria's Chemical Weapons

WSJ looks at 'Unit 450'

By Kevin Spak,  Newser Staff

Posted Sep 13, 2013 7:48 AM CDT

(Newser) – Last week, as the US prepared for military strikes, an elite Syrian military unit once again moved the Assad regime's chemical stockpiles. Unit 450, an all-Alawite squad so secretive that even high-ranking military defectors aren't aware of its existence, has been divvying up and dispersing its stockpiles for months, US and Middle Eastern officials tell the Wall Street Journal. Officials believe the regime's 1,000 metric tons of chemical agents, once concentrated in a few large stores, are now scattered to as many as 50 locations across Syria.

"We know a lot less than we did six months ago about where the chemical weapons are," one US official says. And even if the US did know all the locations, attacking Unit 450 "would be a pretty tricky affair because … if you attack them you may reduce the security of their weapons," a former Defense Intelligence Agency member says. For the same reason, the US won't share the location of stockpiles with the rebels. In other Syria news:

  • John Kerry says his first day of talks with Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov was "constructive," the New York Times reports. The sides remain divided on whether the UN resolution should have a military component.
  • Kerry argued for that military component forcefully in lengthy remarks yesterday. Lavrov seemed taken aback. "I'm not prepared with the extended political statement," he said. "Diplomacy likes silence."
  • One thing has already come out of the talks: The sides agreed to hold peace talks later this month in New York in the hopes of ending the war diplomatically, CNN reports.
  • Bashar al-Assad, meanwhile, is feeling emboldened enough to make demands. Yesterday he said he'd only relinquish his chemical weapons if the US "ceases arms deliveries to terrorists," meaning the rebels. Assad also suggested that the Russian plan could be used to drag things out. "It doesn't mean that Syria will sign the documents, fulfill the obligations, and that's it," he said.

This image made from amateur video purports to show Syrian government troops in Damascus, Syria.
This image made from amateur video purports to show Syrian government troops in Damascus, Syria.   (AP Photo/Shaam News Network via AP video)
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