The Turkish military launched a 10-day exercise at a base near the border with Syria on Monday, where fears of a spillover of violence and of the fallout of any chemical weapons use have escalated in recent weeks.
The exercise at Incirlik, a NATO air base outside the city of Adana where U.S. troops are also stationed, will test the military’s readiness for battle and coordination with government ministries, the general staff said in a statement.
“(The exercise will) test joint operations that would be carried out between ministries, public institutions and the armed forces at a time of mobilization and war,” it said.
While the exercise in Adana province, some 100 km (60 miles) from the border, was described by NATO’s second-biggest military as “planned”, it comes at a time of heightened tension.
Turkey is sheltering nearly 400,000 refugees from Syria’s more than two-year conflict, has become one of President Bashar al-Assad’s most vocal critics, and has scrambled war planes along the border as stray gunfire and shelling hit its soil.
A Turkish border guard was killed and six others wounded last week in a clash with armed men at a border crossing along the 900 km frontier.
Turkish experts are meanwhile testing blood samples taken from Syrian casualties brought to a Turkish hospital from fighting in Syria to determine whether they were victims of a chemical weapons attack.
U.S. President Barack Obama last year said the use or deployment of chemical weapons by Assad would cross a “red line”.
Assad’s government and the rebels accuse each other of carrying out three chemical weapon attacks, one near Aleppo and another near Damascus, both in March, and another in Homs in December.
The civil war began with anti-government protests in March 2011. The conflict has now claimed an estimated 70,000 lives and forced 1.2 million Syrian refugees to flee.
A Geneva-based NGO starts training military and legal officials in the armed Free Syrian Army (FSA) on the basics of international humanitarian law in Turkey’s southeastern provinces.
Officials from Geneva Call, which aims to convince non-state actors to respect international humanitarian and human rights law, will conduct the three-day trainings for the Free Syrian Army members first in Gaziantep and then in Hatay province.
‘Fighter, not Killer’
The workshop, titled “Fighter not Killer,” will be held between May 10 and 12 in Gaziantep. The same workshop will take place in Hatay’s Reyhanlı district May 13 to 15. A source from the Syrian National Coalition told the Hürriyet Daily News yesterday that the workshop would not be military training but rather would draw attention to international humanitarian law, stating that some of the FSA fighters had not been soldiers before the uprising in the country.
The fighters will be told not to allow children become fighters even if they demand it. The workshop aims to teach the fighters that they are not killers, and how to treat captured soldiers from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces.
The workshop revolves around 15 rules of international humanitarian law that represent the basic standards of military conflicts.
The brochures for the training the Syrian Coalition sent to the Daily News show drawings such as a fighter using civilians as human shield, labeling it an incorrect practice. The drawings urge fighters not to risk the lives of civilians. It also shows that fighting in a vehicle disguised as humanitarian relief is an incorrect practice as it puts real relief workers at risk. One of the videos that will be shown at the workshops shows that tying the hands or feet of captured soldiers or blindfolding them in prison is an incorrect practice.
A Syrian source told the Daily News that they had already organized the first of these workshops in Hatay two months ago.
As one of the two most credible contenders for the estimated $4 billion T-Loramids Turkish contract, Eurosam is taking part in the IDEF 2013 exhibition in Istanbul showing on its stand a Launch Module and an Engagement module belonging to the Italian 4th Air Defense Regiment, the Italian unit which is now operational with the consortium Samp/T system.
“We are happy of the strong support to our proposal given byFrance and Italy,” Antonio Perfetti, Eurosam Chairman delcared at the press conference organised on May 8th, “which materialised in the visit to our stand from the Ambassadors of the two countries.” Should Turkey chose the European system, a series of opportunities should arise, that might go well beyond the simple participation of the Turkish industry into the programme. Eurosam does not foresee a simple transfer of technology to Turkey, but looks at the co-development of future upgrades. Full transparency was given to Turkish authorities regarding the three anti-ballistic missile tests conducted until now, both by the consortium and by the current customers of the system.
Turkish companies would eventually provide subsystems to the consortium, and they would become full partners in any other export contract. Eurosam would also transfer simulation capabilities to Turkey, which would allow the nation to fully exploit the system. “The Turkish industry has shown in recent years an extraordinary learning capacity” Perfetti said, “and it possesses a high technical quality.” As for a potential participation of Turkey into the Eurosam consortium the chairman said that the consortium was the result of a MoU between French and Italian governments, and that a solution will have to be found at governmental level.
However a new instrument aimed at protecting intellectual property would be needed. No forecast on a date for the decision was made, “but we are sure that Turkeywill take a decision,” Perfetti said.
Hardly a day passes without a Turkish defense company proudly announcing that it has designed, developed and produced a weapon system the country would normally buy off-the-shelf from a foreign supplier. The most recent indigenously developed Turkish weapon is an anti-tank missile, the UMTAS.
Turkish military officials are anxiously awaiting the first serial production and delivery of the UMTAS.
“After years of going from one foreign supplier to another, we are happy to have our companies providing us with national solutions,” a senior Army official said.
Procurement officials said the UMTAS has recently undergone several successful field tests.
“This system can quickly find foreign buyers and mark an impressive transformation [of Turkey] from an import-dependent country into an exporting one,” one procurement official said. “It is relatively low-cost and reliable.”
State-owned missile maker Roketsan initiated the long-range anti-tank UMTAS missile project in efforts, first, to meet local demand from the Turkish Armed Forces, and later to export it, especially to countries in the region.
The UMTAS, with its infrared imaging and laser-seeker options, is an anti-tank missile with a range of 8 kilometers to be used in air-to-ground and ground-to-ground operations.
Roketsan officials said the system is going through further tests for technical properties and compatibility with environmental conditions. Thus far, the system has completed ballistic-missile tests and controlled-missile tests, and its sub-system design has been finished, they said.
The UMTAS is considered the official anti-tank system for the T-129, the helicopter gunship Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) is co-producing with Italian-British AgustaWestland in a US $3.2 billion project. It also can be integrated into the Anka, Turkey’s first locally developed unmanned aircraft. Other potential platforms to be outfitted with the UMTAS are armored land vehicles and naval vessels.
The Turkish Ministry of Defence along with the country’s Air Force intends to establish a military electronic system for F-16 fighters, the Hürriyet newspaper reported on Wednesday.
Today this type of system is being created in only five countries in the world. The electronic combat system which is the foundation of military electronic systems for fighters will protect the aircraft during a flight from threats detected by radar and an air defence system.
The system warns the pilot of danger of imminent radar detection in time and automatically neutralises the radar locked on to it.
According to the newspaper, today Turkey is importing this electronic system. After the development of the system by the Turkish defence industry, the country plans to export it to other countries.
Establishment of military electronic systems for fighter aircraft is part of a government programme aimed at providing the Turkish military with weapons, equipment and an outfit built in the country. Turkey has achieved 54 per cent self-sufficiency in this area.
Greece has a long history of left-wing radicalism inclined toward violence. The 1970s saw the rise of radical group 17 November, and more recent years marked the rise of such groups as the Revolutionary Struggle and the Conspiracy of Fire Cells.
Given this history and the manner in which the current crises are producing disaffected, radicalized and unemployed people, we thought it would be worth examining radical far-left groups in Greece and the types of violence they can be expected to conduct. It is also important to remember that Greece is not the only country in which the population, particularly the left, is radicalizing. Italy, too, has seen increased leftist radicalism. What is happening in these two countries could herald things to come elsewhere in Europe.
A History of Radicalism
The revolutionary left in Greece dates back to the anarchists of the 1800s and the emergence of communism in Europe. Influenced by the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, communist partisans were some of the most effective anti-Nazi forces during the Axis powers’ brutal occupation of Greece (Italy and Bulgaria joined Germany in the occupation). After the Allied invasion of Greece and its liberation from Axis control, a civil war erupted that pitted communist partisans against anti-communist forces, which were backed by the British and the Americans. Because many former Nazi collaborators aided the anti-communists in the Greek Civil War, many anti-communist elements remained in Greece’s security forces. The war also left the remnants of an embittered communist movement upset by the fact that Nazi collaborators such as Georgios Papadopoulos, who would become the future leader of a military junta that seized power in 1967, were never brought to justice.
Like much of Europe, Greece then became a Cold War battleground. The strength of the communist forces in Greece and in its neighbor, Turkey, was the driving force behind the 1947 Truman Doctrine in which U.S. President Harry S. Truman pledged military and economic support to Greece and Turkey to prevent them from falling into the Soviet sphere of influence. This resulted in strong anti-U.S. and anti-NATO sentiment among the Greek left, which would later act on that sentiment through terrorist activity.
But the United States and its allies were not the only ones attempting to influence Greece. The Soviet Union saw the Greek communists, like communist groups elsewhere in the West, as a useful tool. The Soviets actively supported communist activists in the Greek labor and student movements. Anti-regime radicalism in the Greek student movement came to a head in 1973, when student protests against the military junta were put down by force. In a particularly iconic incident, an army tank crashed through the gates of Athens Polytechnic on Nov. 17, 1973, as soldiers seized control of the university from student protesters.
The gravity of the Athens Polytechnic uprising was clearly felt when a then-unknown group, Revolutionary Organization 17 November, assassinated Richard Welch, the CIA station chief in Athens, in December 1975. From then until 2000, 17 November conducted several assassinations and attacked NATO, Greek government and Greek industrialist targets. Although the group came to be known for close-quarter assassinations using .45-caliber pistols, they also conducted a number of successful bombing attacks, such as the June 1988 assassination of U.S. Defense Attache Capt. William Nordeen. In 1989, the group stole anti-tank rockets from a military base in Larissa. The rockets were later used in attacks against buildings and armored limousines.
The 17 November operatives practiced good terrorist tradecraft and excellent operational security. This allowed them to operate far longer than their contemporary radical leftist groups in Germany and Italy. While the founders of the German Red Army Faction and the Italian Red Brigades were arrested in the 1970s, the founders of 17 November were not taken into custody until 2002, when a botched bombing on a ferry company resulted in the arrest of the bomber. Authorities used the evidence the culprit provided to arrest most of the remaining members of 17 November, whose long reign of terror finally came to an end.
But Greece was not quiet for long. Inspired by the highly publicized arrest and trial of the 17 November members, a new group arose from the radical Greek left in 2003. This group was called Revolutionary Struggle. The group shared 17 November’s anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist and anti-U.S. focus, but it was more anarchistic than the Marxist 17 November.
From 2003 to 2010, Revolutionary Struggle bombed several Greek law enforcement buildings, banks and international corporations. The group was also responsible for a number of firearm attacks against police and a rocket attack against the U.S. Embassy. In the latter attack, the group notably used an RPG-7, not the M28 super bazooka rockets associated with 17 November. The rocket-propelled grenade launcher was recovered in April 2010, when six members of Revolutionary Struggle were arrested. Two members of the group, founder Nikos Maziotis and his wife, Panagiota Roupa, fled after being released from custody during their trial in July 2012. They are still at large.
In 2008, another Greek anarchist group calling itself the Conspiracy of Fire Cells announced its presence with a series of low-level bombing attacks against car dealerships and banks in Athens and Thessaloniki. Until late 2010, the group’s attacks were meant to damage property and send messages rather than kill people — a big departure from the homicidal intentions of 17 November. In the January 2010 bombing of the Greek Parliament, the group made a warning call to a newspaper that permitted the area to be evacuated, thus avoiding casualties.
This operational paradigm changed dramatically in 2010, when the group began to send letter bombs. After a number of letter bombs were sent to the Greek Ministry of Justice, foreign embassies in Athens and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Greek police arrested two suspects. At the time of the arrests, the suspects were found to be in possession of letter bombs addressed to then-French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s office in Paris and to the Belgian and Dutch embassies in Athens. In total, 13 people were arrested and charged for their involvement in the Conspiracy of Fire Cells letter bomb campaign.
In the weeks before their trial in January 2011, anarchists in Italy mailed letter bombs packed with shrapnel to several embassies in Rome. On Dec. 28, 2010, anarchists attacked the Greek Embassy in Buenos Aires, which was followed by a bombing attack on the Athens courthouse in which the Conspiracy of Fire Cells members were to be tried. The courthouse bombing involved a substantial device that damaged the building and several nearby vehicles, but because of a warning call placed to authorities 40 minutes before the device detonated, it inflicted no casualties.
A group calling itself the Lambros Fountas cell of the Informal Anarchist Federation claimed responsibility for the Rome parcel bombs. (Lambros Fountas was a member of Revolutionary Struggle who was killed in April 2010 and whose death led to the roundup of the group’s members.) The moniker shows the close relationship between Greek and Italian anarchists. Attacks in Italy, such as the May 2012 shooting of a nuclear engineer in Genoa, and two attempts to sabotage rail signaling cables in Bristol, the United Kingdom, have been claimed by people operating under the name of the Informal Anarchist Federation.
In one of the most brazen attacks in recent years, three armed men appeared at Microsoft’s Athens office in the early hours of June 27, 2012, and, after forcing out the security guards, they backed a van up to the doors of the building and ignited a large incendiary device, which damaged the building.
More recently, anarchists in Greece have conducted small-scale arson and bombing attacks against bank branches, political parties and the homes of journalists. On March 11, 2013, they conducted a low-level bombing attack against a courier company in Athens.
Progressing Toward Lethality
From this history, we can identify some trends for future radical activity. First, it’s clear that the Marxist terrorism that wracked Europe in the 1970s and 1980s is not about to return, no matter how many people are radicalized by the current crises. The geopolitical environment that spawned and nurtured Marxist terrorism has changed dramatically. The state-sponsored training and support that many European Marxist groups received from the Soviet Union and Eastern European states, such as East Germany, simply will not reappear. In addition, the Marxist training camps European militants were able to visit in such places as Yemen, Libya and Iraq no longer exist.
Since the fall of the Soviet Union, most left-wing radicals, save for some in Latin America, have become disillusioned with Marxism. This has helped foster the growth of anarchism, which is seen by many radicals as a system that is less prone to corruption and is therefore a more viable alternative to the capitalist imperialist system.
Something that has remained consistent among those in the radical left is the sense of international solidarity. It was this solidarity that drew Japanese Red Army operatives to conduct attacks in the name of their Palestinian comrades and inspired the Provisional Irish Republican Army to train other Marxist revolutionaries in bombmaking tradecraft in training camps in southern Yemen. Likewise, present-day Italian and Argentine anarchists claim attacks for their imprisoned Greek comrades.
While Greek and other European anarchists have shared the Marxists’ anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist beliefs, they have yet to kill people to the extent the Marxists did in their attacks. Bombing an ATM or setting a building on fire is a far cry from kidnapping or assassinating a banker or industrialist. Sending a letter bomb to an embassy is also quite different from the Nordeen and Welch assassinations.
Nevertheless, the shift from attacks meant to cause property destruction to attacks meant to maim people — sending letter bombs or kneecapping a nuclear engineer, for example — is quite disturbing. If the trend continues, it will not be a far jump to conduct attacks meant to cause fatalities. The Revolutionary Struggle already made this jump in their attacks against Greek police targets, and other anarchists could follow suit. The fact that Italian anarchists have included shrapnel in their letter bombs is another disturbing indicator that they may be making a similar progression toward lethality.
The January 11, 2013, firebombing attacks against the homes of five journalists in Greece is also unsettling in that it brought violence to the homes, rather than the business offices, of the targets. Fire can be a very deadly weapon, and if the firebombing attacks against homes continue, it is only a matter of time before someone dies.
Although today’s anarchists lack the state sponsorship the Cold War-era European Marxist groups enjoyed in terms of funding and obtaining weapons, the proximity of places like Greece and Italy to the black arms markets in the Balkans and the Middle East means that they will be able to readily obtain arms. The rocket-propelled grenade launcher and the Serbian Zastava pistols found in the possession of Revolutionary Struggle militants at the time of their arrests is a great example of the availability of arms in the region.
Whereas Molotov cocktails, camping gas canister bombs and letter bombs are fairly cheap, guns and rocket launchers cost real money on the black market. Therefore, it will be important to see if Greek anarchists begin moneymaking operations, such as bank robberies and high-value kidnappings for ransom. Since anarchists tend to be more plugged in to technology, indications of cybercrime should also be looked for.
Because the anarchist movement is so interconnected, shifts in violence in places like Greece and Italy can quickly translate into continentwide, even global, trends.
A mission of US defense and aerospace industry firms, which include Bell, Boeing and Sikorsky, will visit Istanbul and Ankara to seek local partners. The US commerce undersecretary will lead the mission.
A large business mission of U.S.-based defense and aerospace companies, including world giants such as Bell Helicopter, Boeing, General Electric and Sikorsky, will arrive in Turkey on Dec. 3 to seek local contracts and partnerships, according to a written statement by the U.S. Embassy in Ankara. U.S. Commerce Undersecretary Francisco J. Sanchez will lead the trade mission of 19 American firms, the statement said.
“Turkey is a priority market for the U.S. Department of Commerce – and the only one in Europe. More and more American firms are discovering the Turkish market and seeking partners in this growing economy. I look forward to returning to Turkey with leading U.S. defense and aerospace companies to facilitate partnerships with Turkish firms,” Sanchez said.
The trade mission will visit Ankara from Dec. 3 to Dec. 5 before going to Istanbul on Dec. 6 for two days.
“The mission will identify opportunities for U.S.-Turkish business partnerships and offer trade financing to qualified firms. This business development effort is part of ongoing efforts to increase bilateral trade and investment between the United States and Turkey, under the aegis of the Framework for Strategic Economic and Commercial Cooperation,” the statement said.
Turkish sector companies are asked to request face-to-face introductions with U.S. companies on the mission.
U.S. companies won two contracts in the past year and are viewed as front-runners in two others. In April 2011, Sikorsky Aircraft defeated Italy’s AgustaWestland in a competition to lead the co-production of more than 100 T-70 utility helicopters, a Turkish version of the Black Hawk International. In January 2012, Turkey’s top procurement body picked Bell Helicopter Textron for the country’s light police helicopters.
The U.S. is among the strongest bidders for Turkey’s estimated $4 billion Long-Range Air and Missile Defense Systems program.
“Since President [Barack] Obama’s visit to Turkey in 2009, we are adding to our vibrant political and defense relationships through increased bilateral trade and investment,” U.S. Ambassador Francis J. Ricciardone noted in the press release.
“In 2011 we set a new record with nearly $20 billion in U.S.-Turkish trade. This year, we saw the first visit of a U.S. secretary of commerce to Turkey in 14 years and the first visit ever by a U.S. trade representative. Despite regional tensions, our trade and investment relationship is stronger than ever, building on Turkey’s economic success. In this way, we are fulfilling President Obama’s call to ‘renew the alliance between our nations and the friendship between our peoples.’”
The mission is organized the U.S. Mission’s Commercial Service in partnership with the Undersecretariat of the Defense Industry, Ankara Industry Chamber, Turkish Union of Chambers and Commodities Exchanges (TOBB), American Business Forum in Turkey and the Turkish Businessmen’s Association.
One Turkish soldier and two civilians were wounded today during clashes at the Syrian border, daily Hurriyet reported.
A Syrian fighter jet today bombed an area near the Turkish border, causing several casualties, officials and witnesses said, The Associated Press reported.
An Associated Press video journalist saw the plane bomb an area around the Syrian town of Ras al-Ayn, some 10 meters from the Turkish border.
Last week the rebels overran three security compounds in the town, located in the predominantly Kurdish oil-producing northeastern province of al-Hasaka, wresting control from the regime forces.
An official at the local mayor’s office said Turkish ambulances were carrying several injured Syrians to a hospital, across the border in the Turkish town of Ceylanpinar. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to reporters. The force of the blast shattered shop windows in Ceylanpinar, in southeastern Turkey, the official said. It was not clear if anyone in Ceylanpinar was injured in the bombing.
The fighting in Ras al-Ayn touched off a massive flow of refugees two days ago, and more refugees were seen coming after the blast.
Earlier, a Syrian helicopter bombed rebel positions in an area further south of Ras al-Ayn and the rebels could be heard responding with machine guns, the official said.
He said the rebels had besieged a Syrian military unit in the region of Esfar Najar and the helicopter was trying to open up an escape route for the regime forces. It was also seen dropping ammunition and food for the soldiers, the official said. The violence in Syria has killed more than 36,000 people since an uprising against President Bashar Assad’s regime began in March 2011. Hundreds of thousands have fled the fighting into neighboring Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq. Another 11,000 escaped into Turkey on Friday following the surge of fighting at Ras al-Ayn.
The U.S. military’s intelligence spending fell $2.5 billion in 2012, continuing its decline as operations in Iraq finished and operations in Afghanistan wind down.
In all, Congress appropriated $21.5 billion for the military intelligence program [MIP], according to the Defense Department. The figure includes funding in the base budget and war spending accounts.
“The department determined that releasing this top line figure does not jeopardize any classified activities within the MIP,” DoD said in an Oct. 30 statement. “No other MIP budget figures or program details will be released, as they remain classified for national security reasons.”
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence has not yet released spending figures for civilian intelligence programs. In February 2011, the Obama administration announced it was requesting $55 billion for 2012 civilian intelligence activities, also called the national intelligence program.
The national intelligence program includes the CIA budget and support to national policymakers. The military intelligence program funds battlefield commanders.
Funding for intelligence organizations, such as the National Security Agency, the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency and others, comes from both the national and military programs.
In 2011, Congress appropriated $78.6 billion for civilian and military intelligence activities. Of that, lawmakers appropriated $54.6 billion for national intelligence programs and $24 billion for military intel programs.
Spending on military intelligence programs was $27 billion in 2010.
The unraveling of the al Assad regime in Syria will produce many geopolitical consequences. One potential consequence has garnered a great deal of media attention in recent days: the possibility of the regime losing control of its chemical weapons stockpile. In an interview aired July 30 on CNN, U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said it would be a “disaster to have those chemical weapons fall into the wrong hands — hands of Hezbollah or other extremists in that area.” When he mentioned other extremists, Panetta was referring to local and transnational jihadists, such as members of the group Jabhat al-Nusra, which has been fighting with other opposition forces against the Syrian regime. He was also referring to the many Palestinian militant groups such as Hamas and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, which have long had a presence in Syria and until recently have been supported by the al Assad regime.
The fear is that the jihadists will obtain chemical weapons to use in terrorist attacks against the West. Israel is also concerned that Palestinian groups could use them in terrorist attacks inside Israel or that Hezbollah could use such weapons against the Israelis in a conventional military battle. However, while the security of these weapons is a legitimate concern, it is important to recognize that there are a number of technical and practical considerations that will limit the impact of these weapons even if a militant group were able to obtain them.
Militant Use of Chemical Weapons
Militant groups have long had a fascination with chemical weapons. One of the largest non-state chemical and biological weapons programs in history belonged to the Aum Shinrikyo organization in Japan. The group had large production facilities located in an industrial park that it used to produce thousands of gallons of ineffective biological agents. After the failure of its biological program, it shifted its focus to chemical weapons production and conducted a number of attacks using chemical agents such as hydrogen cyanide gas, phosgene and VX and sarin nerve agents.
Jihadists have also demonstrated an interest in chemical weapons. The investigation of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing found that bombmaker Abdul Basit (aka Ramzi Yousef) had added sodium cyanide to the large vehicle-borne improvised explosive device detonated in the Trade Center’s basement parking garage. The cyanide was either consumed or so widely scattered by the huge blast that its effects were not noticed at the time of the attack. The presence of the cyanide was only uncovered after investigators found a list of the chemicals ordered by conspirator Nidal Ayyad and debriefed Basit after his arrest.
In his testimony at his 2001 trial for the Millennium Bomb plot, Ahmed Ressam described training he had received at al Qaeda’s Deronta facility in Afghanistan for building a hydrogen cyanide device. Ressam said members of the group had practiced their skills, using the gas to kill a dog that was confined in a small box.
Videos found by U.S. troops after the invasion of Afghanistan supported Ressam’s testimony — as did confiscated al Qaeda training manuals that contained recipes for biological toxins and chemical agents, including hydrogen cyanide gas. The documents recovered in Afghanistan prompted the CIA to publish a report on al Qaeda’s chemical and biological weapons program that created a lot of chatter in late 2004.
There have been other examples as well. In February 2002, Italian authorities arrested several Moroccan men who were found with about 4 kilograms (9 pounds) of potassium ferrocyanide and allegedly were planning to attack the U.S. Embassy in Rome.
In June 2006, Time magazine broke the story of an alleged al Qaeda plot to attack subways in the United States using improvised devices designed to generate hydrogen cyanide gas. The plot was reportedly aborted because the al Qaeda leadership feared it would be ineffective.
In 2007, jihadist militants deployed a series of large vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices augmented with chlorine gas against targets in Iraq. However, the explosives in these attacks inflicted far more casualties than the gas. This caused the militants to deem the addition of chlorine to the devices as not worth the effort, and the Iraqi jihadists abandoned their chemical warfare experiment in favor of employing vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices without a chemical kicker.
There have also been several credible reports in Iraq of militants using chemical artillery rounds in improvised explosive device attacks against coalition forces, but those attacks also appear to have been largely ineffective.
Difficult to Employ
Using chemical munitions on the battlefield presents a number of challenges. The first of these is sufficiently concentrating the chemical agent to affect the targeted troops. In order to achieve heavy concentrations of the agent, chemical weapon attacks were usually delivered by a massive artillery bombardment using chemical weapons shells. Soviet military chemical weapons doctrine relied heavily on weapons systems such as batteries of BM-21 multiple rocket launchers, which can be used to deliver a massive amount of ordnance to a targeted area. Additionally, it is very difficult to control the gas cloud created by the massive barrage. There were instances in World War I and in the Iran-Iraq War in which troops were affected by chemical weapon clouds that had been created by their own artillery but had blown back upon them.
Delivering a lethal dose is also a problem in employing chemical weapons in terrorist attacks, as seen by the attacks outlined above. For example, in the March 20, 1995, attack on the Tokyo subway system, Aum Shinrikyo members punctured 11 plastic bags filled with sarin on five different subway trains. Despite the typically very heavy crowds on the trains and in the Tokyo subway stations that morning, the attacks resulted in only 12 deaths — although thousands of other commuters were sickened by the attack, some severely.
The Syrian regime is thought to have mustard gas as well as tabun, sarin and VX nerve agents in its chemical weapons inventory. Mustard gas, a blistering agent, is the least dangerous of these compounds. In World War I, less than 5 percent of the troops who were exposed to mustard gas died. Tabun and sarin tend to be deployed in a volatile liquid form that evaporates to form a gas. Once in gas form, these agents tend to dissipate somewhat quickly. VX, on the other hand, a viscous nerve agent, was developed to persist in an area after it is delivered in order to prevent an enemy force from massing in or passing through that area. While VX is more persistent, it is more difficult to cause a mass casualty attack with it since droplets of the liquid agent must come into contact with the victim, unlike other agents that evaporate to form a large cloud.
But there are other difficulties besides delivering a lethal dose. Because of improvements in security measures and intelligence programs since 9/11, it has proved very difficult for jihadists to conduct attacks in the West, even when their attack plans have included using locally manufactured explosives. There have been numerous cases in which plots have either failed, like the May 2010 Times Square attack involving Faisal Shahzad, or been detected and thwarted, like the September 2009 plot to attack the New York subway system involving Najibullah Zazi.
Because of the improved security, it would be very difficult for jihadists to smuggle chemical agents into the United States or Europe, even if they were able to obtain them. Indeed, as mentioned above, the chemical artillery rounds used in improvised explosive devices in Iraq were employed in that country, not smuggled out of the region.
This means that jihadists not only face the tactical problem of effectively employing the agent in an attack but also the logistical problem of transporting it to the West. This difficulty of transport will increase further as awareness of the threat increases. One way around the logistical problem would be to use the agent against a soft target in the region. Such targets could include hotels, tourist sites, airport arrival lounges or even Western airliners departing from airports with less than optimal security.
Another option for jihadists or Palestinian militants could be to attempt to smuggle the chemical agent into Israel for use in an attack. However, in recent years, increased security measures following past suicide bombing attacks in Israel have caused problems for militant groups smuggling weapons into Israel. The same problems would apply to chemical agents — especially since border security has already been stepped up again due to the increased flow of weapons from Libya to Gaza.
Militants could attempt to solve this logistical challenge by launching a warhead or a barrage of warheads into Israel using rockets, but such militant rocket fire tends to be very inaccurate and, like conventional rocket warheads, these chemical warheads would be unlikely to hit any target of value. Even if a rocket landed in a populated area, it would be unlikely to produce many casualties due to the problem of creating a lethal concentration of the agent — although it would certainly cause a mass panic.
The use of chemical weapons would also undoubtedly spur Israel to retaliate heavily in order to deter additional attacks. This threat of massive retaliation has kept Syria from using chemical weapons against Israel or allowing its militant proxies to use them.
Hezbollah may be the militant organization in the region that could most effectively utilize Syrian chemical munitions. The group possesses a large inventory of artillery rockets, which could be used to deliver the type of barrage attack required for a successful chemical weapon attack. Rumors have been swirling around the region for many months that Libyan rebels sold some chemical munitions to Hezbollah and Hamas. While we have seen confirmed reports that man-portable air-defense systems and other Libyan weapons are being smuggled into Sinai en route to Gaza, there has been no confirmation that chemical rounds are being smuggled out of Libya.
Still, even if Hezbollah were to receive a stockpile of chemical munitions from Syria or Libya, it has a great deal to lose by employing such munitions. First, it would have to face the aforementioned massive retaliation from Israel. While Israel was somewhat constrained in its attacks on Hezbollah’s leadership and infrastructure in the August 2006 war, it is unlikely to be nearly as constrained in responding to a chemical weapon attack on its armed forces or a population center. Because of the way chemical weapons are viewed, the Israelis would be seen internationally as having just cause for massive retaliation. Second, Hezbollah would face severe international repercussions over any such attack. As an organization, Hezbollah has been working for many years to establish itself as a legitimate political party in Lebanon and avoid being labeled as a terrorist organization in Europe and elsewhere. A chemical weapon attack would bring heavy international condemnation and would not be in the group’s best interest at this time.
So, while securing Syrian chemical munitions is an imperative, there are tactical and practical constraints that will prevent militants from creating the type of nightmare scenario discussed in the media, even if some chemical weapons fell into the wrong hands.