Syria hides many of its weapons
President Bashar al-Assad's forces have removed several Scud missiles and dozens of launchers from a base north of Damascus, possibly to protect the weapons from a Western attack, opposition sources said on Thursday.The threat of the strikes against the regime appear to have disrupted the normal placement of weapon systems. Whether we are able to target the new locations of these weapons will depend on the quality of US intelligence. The long build up to an attack does not appear to have worked to the US's advantage.
The move from the position in the foothills of the Qalamoun mountains, one of Syria's most heavily militarized districts, appears part of a precautionary but limited redeployment of armaments in areas of central Syria still held by Assad's forces, diplomats based in the Middle East told Reuters.
They said rebel raids and fighting near key roads had blocked a wider evacuation of the hundreds of security and army bases that dot the country of 22 million, where Assad's late father imposed his autocratic dynasty four decades ago.
At the headquarters of the army's 155th Brigade, a missile unit whose base sprawls along the western edge of Syria's main highway running north from the capital to Homs, rebel scouts saw dozens mobile Scud launchers pulling out early on Thursday.
Rebel military sources said spotters saw missiles draped in tarpaulins on the launchers, as well as trailer trucks carrying other rockets and equipment. More than two dozen Scuds - 11-metre (35-foot) long ballistic missiles with ranges of 300 km (200 miles) and more - were fired from the base in the Qalamoun area this year, some of which hit even Aleppo in the far north.
Assad's forces appeared already by Wednesday to have evacuated most personnel from army and security command headquarters in central Damascus, residents and opposition sources in the capital said.
In the Qalamoun area, an activist calling himself Amer al-Qalamouni told Reuters by telephone: "Most of the personnel in the base appear to have left.
He added that trailer trucks loaded with military equipment were also seen on the Damascus ring road to the south: "Either the hardware is being transported to be stored elsewhere or it will remain constantly on the move to avoid being hit," he said.