The Syrian army has been moving stockpiles of chemical weapons to as many as 50 sites in an attempt to make it difficult for U.S. forces to track them, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported Thursday.
A secret Syrian military unit has been tasked to shift stocks of poison gases and munitions to various locations across the country, according to the report, which cited American and Middle Eastern officials.
Officials told the WSJ the move by “Syria's elite Unit 450 could complicate any U.S. bombing campaign in Syria over its alleged chemical attacks.”
The United States accuses the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad of striking a Damascus suburb last month with poison gas.
Washington claims the Aug. 21 attack has killed some 1,400 people, including more than 400 children.
The Journal reported that the Syrian military has been moving the stocks around for months and as recently as last week, as quoted by AFP.
Starting about a year ago, the deadly weapons - traditionally kept at several sites in western Syria - began being dispersed to nearly two dozen major sites, the WSJ reported.
The unit has also started using dozens of smaller sites, the report said, with Washington now believing that the weapons have been dispersed to as many as 50 spots in the country's west, north and south, as well as new sites in the east.
Despite the redistribution, both U.S. and Israeli intelligence agencies still believe they know where most of the weapons are situated, according to the Journal.
However, it quoted one official as saying “we know a lot less than we did six months ago about where the chemical weapons are.”
While Washington is employing satellites to track vehicles used by the unit, the pictures do not always indicate what they are carrying, the paper reported.
President Bashar al-Assad confirmed for the first time Thursday that Syria plans to give up its chemical weapons as the United States urged him and his Russian allies to quickly make good on his promise.