The Syrian military is ready to attack its own citizens with chemical weapons as soon as Syrian President Bashar Assad gives the word, according to NBC News.
U.S. officials announced Wednesday that the Syrian military has loaded aerial bombs with precursor chemicals for sarin, a lethal nerve gas. The bombs have not yet been loaded onto Syrian fighter-bombers, the officials emphasized, and Assad has not given the order to use the ordinance.
But if Assad orders the military to deploy the chemical weapons, one U.S. official told NBC News, “there’s little the outside world can do to stop it.”
Sarin is the same toxic chemical that former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s military used in 1988. Hussein’s sarin attack against the Kurdish town of Halabja killed 5,oo0 people.
According to reports, Syrian forces have 60 days to use the weapons before the chemical mixture expires.
The sudden development comes as Syrian rebels announced they would focus on disrupting the government’s infrastructure and begin a new phase in the country’s ongoing civil war, which has cost billions in damage and led at least 1.2 million Syrians to flee their homes.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced Wednesday at NATO headquarters that Assad would cross a “red line” if he decided to use chemical weapons. President Barack Obama has also said it would be “totally unacceptable” for Assad to deploy the deadly ordinance.
U.S. officials first discovered this summer that Syria was storing banned chemical agents.