Pentagon knew this in 2012
Securing Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles and the facilities that produced them would likely require the U.S. to send more than 75,000 ground troops into the Middle Eastern country, MailOnline learned Wednesday.
That estimate comes from a secret memorandum the U.S. Department of Defense prepared for President Obama in early 2012.
U.S. Central Command arrived at the figure of 75,000 ground troops as part of a written series of military options for dealing with Bashar al-Assad more than 18 months ago, long before the U.S. confirmed internally that the Syrian dictator was using the weapons against rebel factions within his borders.
‘The report exists, and it was prepared at the request of the National Security Advisor’s staff,’ a Department of Defense official with knowledge of the inquiry told MailOnline Wednesday on condition of anonymity.
‘DoD spent lots of time and resources on it. Everyone understood that this wasn’t a pointless exercise, and that eventually we would be tasked with going and getting the VX and sarin, so there was lots of due diligence.’
The logistical difficulties of bringing Syria’s chemical warfare infrastructure under control stands in stark contrast with the text of a resolution passed Wednesday by a powerful Senate committee, and with assurances Secretary of State John Kerry has given committees in both houses of Congress.
Hundreds of children were among the more than 1,400 killed by what U.S. officials have called a sarin nerve gas attack in the Duma neighborhood of Damascus on August 21
U.S. Navy SEAL teams and other Special Forces units could be part of a rapid deployment, with a ‘non combat’ mission restricted to securing chemical weapons, but if they are attacked their rules of engagement would likely permit returning fire
The War Powers Resolution, which passed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee late Wednesday on a bipartisan 10-7 vote, includes text noting that it ‘does not authorize the use of the United States Armed Forces on the ground in Syria for the purpose of combat operations.’
If President Obama were to deploy ground forces in Syria, the final words of that phrase – ‘for the purpose of combat operations’ – could become a loophole large enough to drive a Humvee through.
Speaking to the committee on Tuesday as he made the case for a congressional authorization to bomb critical Syrian military sites, Kerry seemed to leave open the possibility that ‘boots on the ground’ could be marshaled specifically to secure chemical weapons stockpiles ‘in the event Syria imploded, for instance.’
Kerry also mused on a scenario in which ‘there was a threat of a chemical weapons cache falling into the hands of al-Nusra or someone else and it was clearly in the interest of our allies and all of us – the British, the French and others – to prevent those weapons of mass destruction falling into the hands of the worst elements.’
‘I don’t want to take off the table an option that might or might not be available to a president of the United States to secure our country,’ Kerry concluded.
Holding their noses? Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez and ranking Republican Bob Corker co-authored a war powers resolution whose guarantee of no ground troops could be quickly discarded
But moments later he insisted ‘the military plan that has been developed by the joint chiefs … is limited. It does not involve boots on the ground. This is not Iraq and this is not Afghanistan.
Less than a day later, Kerry sang the same refrain for members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
‘There will be no boots on the ground,’ Kerry said Wednesday.
‘The president has said that again and again. And there is nothing in this authorization that should contemplate it. And, we reiterate, no boots on the ground.’
An August 20, 2013 report from the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, whose research muscle is tapped routinely by members of Congress, described that troop estimate and attributed it to a February 22, 2012 CNN report.
When that report aired, the network cited unnamed Pentagon officials who said securing the chemical warfare installations would be extraordinarily difficult,’ and might require more U.S. ground forces than were in Afghanistan at the time.
A British Parliamentary report published in July determined that there is ‘no doubt amongst the UK intelligence community that the Syrian regime possesses vast stockpiles’ of weaponized chemical agents.
More than 2 million Syrian refugees have swarmed across the nation’s borders into Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and northern Iraq since Syria’s civil war spiraled out of control a year ago, creating humanitarian relief problems that will compound any military mission
The Congressional Research Service underscored concerns ‘that Syria could transfer its chemical weapons to Hezbollah in Lebanon,’ further explaining the need for large masses of U.S. troops in the country during the early days of a military attack.
The White House confirmed ten days later that ‘the Syrian government carried out a chemical weapons attack in the Damascus suburbs on August 21, 2013.’
A preliminary assessment that at least 1,429 people were killed in that attack, including at least 426 children, has formed the basis for President Obama’s demand that Congress approve a series of targeted air strikes in retaliation.
The full Senate may vote on the Was Powers Resolution as soon as Monday, barring a filibuster for Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, who hinted during a Tuesday conference call that he might repeat the March marathon during which he spoke for 13 hours straight in order to delay a confirmation vote on CIA Director John Brennan.
The House of Representatives could face a longer, more drawn-out process with Republicans at the helm, and growing public opposition to new military action in the Middle East.