Conflict & Justice

The plan to destroy Syria's chemical weapons is simple, at least on paper

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Credit: Anna Holligan

This was the site of a mock ambush during training exercises for chemical weapons teams at a US military facility in Bavaria, Germany.

The plan to destroy Syria's chemical weapons is simple, on paper. The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons wants to transport the chemicals from across the country to Latakia — Syria's main port — and ship it out for destruction at sea.

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(This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.)

But moving dangerous chemicals through a war zone isn't simple. That's why the team of experts tasked with verification of the chemicals are being trained at a US military facility in Bavaria, Germany.

"It's an incredible training facility. The US military calls it the jewel in their European crown," says Anna Holligan, reporter for the BBC, who visited the site.

That's because it is modified to simulate a real-life war zone, Holligan says. One of the commanders told her that it's designed to prepare the trainees for "what could be the worst day of their lives."

There are mock kidnappings, ambushes, and illegal checkpoints. The idea is to prepare these civilians for a combat situation.

Holligan says these experts will travel in convoys with Syrian government as well as UN representatives, so there is significant danger that they will become targets.

So why would civilians risk their lives in Syria to help with the destruction of hazardous chemicals?

One of them described why he has agreed to this: "I've seen pictures on television and the effects of these kinds of weapons and it's easy for me as a father to look at those kids that are affected and realize that these weapons have to go. So, if I can do anything about that and help with my skills, I'm more than happy to do it," he said.

He went on to tell Holligan that his girls tell their friends how proud they are that their father is going to take these weapons out. Still, as Holligan says, it takes a brave person to do this.

A US naval vessel is now being modified to neutralize the chemical weapons at sea. But after that, the chemical end-products still have to be disposed of and, so far, no country has offered to take them.

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    Credit: Anna Holligan

    US Lieutenant Colonel John Watkins, Anna Holligan's chauffeur for the day.

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