"Western officials" are now reporting that Syrian soldiers have loaded a truck with chemical weapons for possible use, according to the Washington Post.
This comes with other reports that beleaguered Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad has prepped his Army for a fight, and that the U.S. has deployed at least 400 troops and batteries of Patriot missiles to the Turkish border.
Joby Warrick of the Post writes:
Surveillance photos confirmed that at least one army unit began loading special military vehicles that transport bombs and artillery shells carrying chemical warheads, according to the officials. The moves followed specific orders to elite troops to begin preparations for the use of the weapons against advancing rebel fighters, the officials said.
The intelligence estimate, coming late Thursday, counters another recent report, issued by Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta just days ago, that the threat of chemical weapons use by Syrian forces had "leveled off," according to CBS.
From the CBS report:
"We haven't seen anything new indicating any aggressive steps to move forward in that way," Panetta told reporters during a flight to Kuwait, adding that U.S. officials "continue to monitor it very closely and we continue to make clear to them that they should not under any means make use of these chemical weapons against their own population. That would produce serious consequences."
Reports are that at least one truck is loaded with weapons, though officials couldn't say whether it was on orders from Assad or possibly a general officer acting on his own. Assad has also begun dumping Scud missiles on advancing rebels, a move some say indicates desperation in Damascus.
Things also accelerated politically as the U.S. officially recognized the provisional Free Syrian Army, and Russia issued statements that would indicate their intelligence sees a possible rebel victory.
Barbara Starr of CNN reported that Russian official Defense Foreign Minister Mikhail Bodganov said, "the regime and the government in Syria are losing more and more control and more and more territory. Unfortunately, we cannot rule out the victory of the Syrian opposition."
"It's at its lowest point yet," a senior U.S. official told Starr. "The trend is moving more rapidly than it has in the past."
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