LONDON: British and US military commanders have drawn up plans to seize or destroy Syria's chemical weapons if the country slides further into chaos.
They fear nerve agents and chemical weapons held by forces loyal to the President, Bashar al-Assad, may fall into terrorists' hands if the regime collapses.
Senior officers have also held talks on a range of ''rogue state'' contingency plans to prevent chemical, biological or nuclear weapons from being seized by terrorists, which they fear may also happen if the regimes of Pakistan or North Korea were to fall.
Iran, which one British source says is ''bent on developing nuclear weapons'', is also causing concern to Western governments.
British intelligence says Syria has amassed an extensive arsenal of weapons of mass destruction, including nerve agents such as sarin and mustard gas.
They have not been used and are considered to be well guarded by Syrian security forces. But militant Islamist groups are inside Syria fighting against the government and are perfectly placed to raid stockpiles, intelligence sources say.
They say the most likely option to prevent the weapons falling to extremists is to destroy stockpiles with air strikes.
Alternatives include the use of special forces and troops to secure weapon sites in Syria if the Assad government collapses.
A Royal Air Force regiment called the Defence Chemical Biological Radiological and Nuclear Wing has been told to be prepared to work alongside the SAS in securing such sites in Syria at short notice.
Last week, a US-based Strategic Working Group began rehearsing how it would secure stockpiles in the Middle East and the Pacific in the event of an international emergency.
The group is composed of personnel from the US military as well as British and Australian officers and government officials. It has tested a variety of plans at a classified war gaming session that focused on a failed state that had lost control of its stockpiles, forcing the US and other countries to intervene.
The plans come as Syria's umbrella opposition group, the National Coalition, has pulled out of several international meetings on Syria's post-Assad future as a protest against the lack of intervention to prevent the slaughter of Syrian civilians.
Telegraph, London;Agence France-Presse