An advance group of international inspectors arrived in Syria on Tuesday to begin the ambitious task of overseeing the destruction of President Bashar al-Assad’s chemical weapons programme, kicking off a mission that must navigate the country’s bloody civil war as well as the international spotlight.

Twenty inspectors from a Netherlands-based chemical weapons watchdog crossed into Syria from neighbouring Lebanon on their way to Damascus to begin their complex mission of finding, dismantling and ultimately destroying an estimated 1,000-tonne chemical arsenal.

The experts have about nine months to complete the task, which has been endorsed by a U.N. Security Council resolution that calls for Syria’s chemical stockpile to be eliminated by mid-2014.

It is the shortest deadline that experts from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons have ever faced in any nation, and their first mission in a country at war.

— AP