U.S. military analysts have seen movement at the Syrian chemical weapons depots leading some to believe the Syrians were preparing to use them as the rebels moved on Damascus. The Jordanians also found proof the Assad regime was outfitting fighter jets with the ability to carry chemical weapons.
However, if the Syrians did choose to use their chemical weapons, Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, admitted the U.S. military could do little to stop them.
"The -- the effort -- or the act of preventing the use of chemical weapons would be almost unachievable, Jennifer, because the -- you would have to have such clarity of intelligence, you know, persistent surveillance, you'd have to actually see it before it happened, and that's -- that's unlikely, to be sure," Dempsey said Thursday.
He explained the best deterrent to Syria using chemical weapons is the threat of the consequences from the U.S. and other allied nations.
"I think that Syria must understand by now that the use of chemical weapons is unacceptable. And to that extent, it provides a deterrent value. But preventing it, if they decide to use it, I think we would be reacting," Dempsey said.
Defense Secretary Panetta tried to ease concerns that the Assad regime would use the chemical weapons. He explained that the Pentagon is more worried about what to do with the chemical sites should Assad fall from power. Military officials are working on plan to protect the sites from outside actors gaining access to the weapons.
"I think the greater concern right now is, what steps does the international community take to make sure that, you know, when Assad comes down, that there is a process and a procedure to ensure that we get our hands on securing those sites," Panetta said.
He denied the immediate notion that the U.S. would send ground troops into Syria, but he said it depends on the situation on the ground should Assad fall.
"We're not talking about ground troops, but, I mean, obviously, you know, it depends on what kind of -- what happens in a transition. Is there a permissive atmosphere? Or is it a hostile atmosphere? And that'll tell you a lot," Panetta said.