WASHNGTON – The chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee is concerned that terrorist groups with links to al-Qaeda could take control of Syria’s chemical weapons stock if the government of President Bashar Assad collapses.
Addressing the panel during a hearing on the Syrian crisis, Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) characterized efforts to overthrow that country’s regime as “a noble mission” but warned against possible repercussions. Extremist groups that comprise at least a portion of the rebel forces seeking to overthrow Assad “will fill the vacuum” and gain control of a chemical weapons arsenal to the world’s detriment.
“Based on the briefings we have received, it is conclusive that he (Assad) used chemical weapons against his own people,” McCaul said. “But damaging the regime’s command and control posts will have the effect of helping the rebels. The Assad regime’s decades of repression have undoubtedly wrought this revolution but the moderate resistance has been infiltrated with some of the fiercest Islamist fighters in the world.”
McCaul said his main concern revolves around the security surrounding Assad’s chemical weapons and questioned whether any U.S. effort to strike against the stockpiles would have a positive impact.
“Securing these weapons will take an international coalition and will ensure that they can neither be used by Assad or the extremist elements of the rebel forces,” McCaul said.
The chairman’s comments came during a day of high-level talks about possible U.S. intervention in the Syrian conflict with President Obama offering his own appraisal during a nationally televised address. Russia, a Syrian ally, continued its initiative to avoid direct U.S. involvement in the conflict by directing the United Nations to assume control and oversight of the arsenal.
Obama is seeking congressional approval to strike at the stockpiles since Syria is thought to have violated international law by gassing its own people, reportedly killing hundreds, including women and children. Other nations, most particularly Great Britain, have opted against any aggressive action, meaning the U.S. would be acting unilaterally. Polls show the American public opposed to intervention and it appears unlikely at this time that Congress will offer its go-ahead.
McCaul expressed hope that the discussions over Syria ceding control over its chemical weapons bear fruit.
“In a situation where I’ve said there’s no good outcome, that might be our best option,” he said.
McCaul said the U.S. must take a “realistic” look at the Syrian situation and consider the “ripple effects” before becoming further involved.
“While the administration contends that we can support the rebels and differentiate between the moderate and extremist wings, the reality is that they are now working together,” he said. “Any U.S. military strikes against the Assad regime will also benefit the extremists fighting him who will undoubtedly use Assad’s weapons against American allies and interests and possibly even our homeland if given the chance.”