Talking to Syrian Major-General Adnan Silou
Destruction in Homs. In line with the regime’s slash-and-burn policy, it may use chemical weapons against its own people. (AFP photo)
One of the gravest concerns in the West about Syria is whether or not the Assad regime will deploy chemical weapons either against the civilian population and armed rebels or against a neighboring country. While accurate data is hard to come by in Syria, Western and Middle Eastern intelligence agencies reckon that the regime has as many as 1,000 tons of chemical weapons disbursed in stockpiles throughout 50 cities. And not that it would matter if Syria had signed or ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), which outlaws the manufacture or storage of these arsenals, though the fact that it hasn’t only amplifies fears of just how catastrophic Assad’s end-game might be.
Major General Adnan Silou is the former head of Syria’s chemical weapons program. He left that post three years ago and defected from the Assad regime in June. Silou now resides in the officers’ refugee camp in Antakya, Turkey, which doubles as the Free Syrian Army headquarters. Here’s his defection video.
NOW Lebanon was able to speak briefly with Major-General Silou recently about the worst of all outcomes for Syria.
Will the regime ever use chemical weapons?
Silou: If Assad feels restricted, he may use them. As long as conventional weapons—tanks, artillery, the Air Force—are successful in damaging things from afar, he won’t need to deploy them.
Under what conditions could you see Assad ordering them used?
Silou: If Aleppo falls to the Free Syrian Army, he’ll deploy them because he’s insane.
Deploy them against whom? The rebels or civilians?
Silou: He’d use them against everyone, rebels and civilians. This would be total destruction. These weapons hurt everyone.
Why would Aleppo be the decisive factor?
Silou: Because it’s the industrial and economic city of Syria.
Describe how this would work. How would the orders be delivered to deploy chemical weapons?
Silou: The chain of command is Bashar al-Assad, Ali Mamluk [who, following last month’s assassination of key regime insiders, now oversees the entire security apparatus], Jamil Hassan, the head of Air Force intelligence. But only Bashar only can give the order.
If Assad were killed or if he left the country, who could then take such a decision?
Silou: Constitutionally, it would be Farouq Al-Sharaf, the current Vice President of Syria. But if Assad was still alive but overthrown, he could delegate authority to any other Syrian general.
Would Maher al-Assad, Bashar’s brother and the commander of the Fourth Division, not assume that role?
Silou: He could. The constitution in Syria doesn’t matter, so it’s whatever Bashar decides.
Where are the chemical weapons being kept now? Is it true that they’re scattered throughout 50 cities in Syria?
Silou: I only know of two storage facilities: “417”, which is northeast of Damascus, and “418”, which is in eastern Homs.
What kinds of weapons are kept there?
Silou: Sarin [gas], VX [nerve agent] and mustard agents.
How would these be delivered or fired?
Silou: Through tanks, missiles and aircraft.
You left your position as head of the chemical weapons division three years ago. How sure can you be that the chemical arsenal is the same today as it was then?
Silou: Everything’s the same as I left it. I did everything and managed everything — I was the chief administrator.
Who’s the head of chemical weapons now?
Silou: Brigadier General Talib Salameh is in charge of training the Syrian troops on how to avoid being affected by chemical weapons. But the responsibility for deploying them belongs to Jamil Hassan.
Were chemical weapons ever used while you were the head of the program?
There have been reports from other defectors that chemical weapons have already been used in Syria since the uprising began a year and a half ago. Is this true?
Silou: In Rastan, the regime sprayed pesticides. This was done to make the people fear the regime and to disperse the protests.