WASHINGTON, Sept. 6 (UPI) -- Western intelligence agencies suspect Syria has spread out its chemical weapons across as many 20 sites for safety, unnamed officials told The Washington Post.
The U.S. and Middle Eastern officials told the Post Syria has dispersed its chemical weapons and precursor components out of fear it may not be able to control the arsenals in the face of a complete breakdown of government control in the civil war.
U.S. President Barack Obama last month warned deployment by Syria of chemical weapons would cross a "red line" and provoke an immediate response by the West.
Officials are monitoring the sites, but said they may not have identified every location, and some chemicals could be stolen or used against civilians.
"We think we know everything, but we felt the same way about Libya," a former U.S. intelligence official told the Post. The official has been briefed on U.S. preparations for both the Syrian and Libyan conflicts. "We had been on the ground in Libya, yet there were big surprises, both in terms of quantities and locations."
U.S. and Middle Eastern officials believe the Syrian arsenal has several hundred tons of chemical weapons and precursors, the Post said. That includes large amounts of battle-ready sarin, a deadly nerve agent.
Western agencies believe Syria has the world's third-largest stockpile of chemical weapons after the United States and Russia, whose arsenals are being dismantled and destroyed. The Post said Syria's weapons are primarily nerve agents that can be delivered by artillery rockets, shells and aircraft munitions.
They were developed for use in a war against Israel.