December 19, 2013

Syria’s Chemical Weapons


Tom: Welcome back, everyone. Now we are going to take you overseas to the country of Syria, where there is about to be a dangerous mission underway to get rid of the country’s chemical weapons. But before we do, we are going to give you just a little backstory. And Scott is here to give us more of the details.

Scott: Right. Syria has been engulfed in a bloody civil war for more than two years now, and more than 100,000 people – mostly civilians, your average everyday people – have been killed. And at one point this summer, it looked like the U.S. was going to get involved.

When these videos hit YouTube in August and witnesses came forward with the details of the horrifying attacks, President Obama was considering a limited military strike against Syria because it was alleged that the Syrian government was using deadly chemical weapons against its own people.

The Syrian government then agreed to give up those chemical weapons and some of the machines used to create the weapons were destroyed. But what about the chemicals that were already created? No one knew how to dispose of them and no country had been willing to destroy them until now.

The Navy’s Cape Ray, a cargo ship currently docked in Southern Virginia, will soon embark on a mission that has never even been attempted before. The ship has been equipped with two specially designed hydrolysis units, like this one, which has never been used before in the field or at sea. These machines mix the chemical agents with hot water and bleach, neutralizing the deadly chemical weapons.

The raging Syrian civil war, which started in March of 2011 when people began protesting against the ruling government, will make getting chemical weapons out of the country an extremely difficult task. And it will call on several world powers to work together.

Tom Countryman: The next phase of the process is the most complex in terms of both logistics and security.

Scott: Tom Countryman oversees the State Department’s role in the operation. He says the chemicals will be transported in armored vehicles, under Syrian military protection, through the war zone to the coastal city of Latakia. There they will be loaded onto Danish and Norwegian ships and taken to an Italian port where they would then be offloaded onto the U.S.’s Cape Ray. But with so many variables, how do you keep the chemicals from getting into the wrong hands?

Countryman: Preventing the chemicals from getting to the wrong hands, to terrorist groups within Syria or outside of Syria, is exactly the reason that we need to move rapidly to get these chemicals out of Syria. It is a security challenge any time you move something like chemical weapons in a visible convoy. There’s a risk on both safety and security.

Scott: All chemicals are supposed to be shipped out by the end of this month, but the weather and the war may make hitting that mark pretty difficult. So officials say they may have to revisit that deadline.

Tom: Pretty intense. Thank you very much, Scott.

Now, to find more of our complete coverage of the Syrian conflict and to find out how you can help those most affected, head to


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>