Ex-US military chief's fears over Syria's chemical weapons

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General Richard Myers Syria Chemical Weapons
General Richard Myers talking to ITV News' Bill Neely. Photo: ITV News

General Richard Myers has been bitten once. He was America's top soldier during the Iraq war, the war in which his soldiers failed to find the weapons of mass destruction that weren't there.

So you might think he'd be cautious. But he's not, about Syria at least.

I met him just hours after President Barack Obama had delivered a very personal warning to Bashar al-Assad about chemical weapons:

If you make the tragic mistake of using these weapons, there will be consequences and you will be held accountable.

– Barack Obama

Myers listened to Obama at the National Defence University and, in a room there, lined with the memorabilia of conflict from the War of Independence to war today, he told me the real threat was not from Assad using these weapons but from Islamist groups using them, after taking the bases where they are stockpiled.

If they could get their hands on them, they wouldn't hesitate to use them and some of those events could make the events of 9/11 pale in comparison.

– General Richard Myers

American intelligence has been wrong so many times but on Syria it seems too confident.

Images from American drones and intelligence gleaned from communications intercepts suggest that some of Syria's huge stockpiles of chemical weapons are being moved again. This may be to protect them from capture. Or it may be to prepare them for use.

That is what Senator John McCain believes. He is of course a hawk on Syria as on Afghanistan and on most other military matters.

General Richard Myers Syria Chemical Weapons
Senator John McCain. Credit: Reuters

Under the Rotunda dome of his Capitol Hill bunker, the old soldier told me: "This is an escalation by Assad...he may be preparing that capability. This is very, very, very dangerous."

It hardly bears repetition.

American forces have what they call contingency planning to secure chemical weapons bases in Syria. It would take thousands, probably tens of thousands of troops. The US isn't going to send them in any time soon.

So far, America won't even arm rebels or recognise the new opposition coalition. But alarms bells are ringing around the domes of Capitol Hill and in the corridors of the White House. They know they were wrong on Iraq. They can't afford to be wrong twice.