U.S. intel report confirms use of chemical weapons in Syria
The White House today released an unclassified report by the U.S. intelligence community confirming the use of chemical weapons on civilians outside of Damascus last Wednesday.
“We assess with high confidence that the Syrian government carried out the chemical weapons attack against opposition elements in the Damascus suburbs on August 21. We assess that the scenario in which the opposition executed the attack on August 21 is highly unlikely,” according to the report.
The intelligence community estimated that 1,429 people – including 426 children – were killed in the chemical attacks, although those figures are likely to change as more evidence are collected.
According to U.S. officials, last week’s attack was not the first time the Syrian government used chemical weapons against civilians and opposition forces. U.S. official alleged that President Bashar al-Assad’s regime “used chemical weapons on a small scale against the opposition multiple times in the last year”, noting that physiological samples collected from a number of individuals in Syria tested positive for sarin.
Sarin gas is clear, colorless, and odorless and the nerve agent can cause death by “preventing the proper operation of an enzyme that acts as the body’s ‘off switch’ for glands and muscles” and thereby causing such extreme fatigue that the victims cease to breathe, according to the Center for Disease Control.
Doctors Without Borders confirmed that three Damascus hospitals supported by the organization reported treating 3,600 patients exhibiting symptoms – including “convulsions, excess saliva, pinpoint pupils, blurred vision and respiratory distress” – that are consistent with exposure to nerve agents used in chemical weapons. There are also numerous videos and photos of purported chemical attack victims circulating in social media, such as YouTube.
The U.S. intelligence report noted that Assad’s regime resorted to using chemical weapons to “gain the upper hand or break a stalemate in areas where it has struggled to seize and hold strategically valuable territory.”
Citing intercepted signal and satellite communications, U.S. officials stated that the Syrian military “were preparing chemical munitions” in the Damascus suburb of ‘Adra on Aug. 18th and that government forces in the Damascus area were using gas masks in preparation for the chemical attacks on Aug. 21st.
The weapons were launched early last Wednesday against a dozen Damascus suburbs that are either opposition-held or contested territories in Syria’s two-years long civil war that has claimed more than 100,000 lives.
The areas attacked were identified as: Mu’addamiyah, Darayya, ‘Ayn Tarma, Jawbar, Al Mulayhah, Kafr Batna, Jisrayn, Siqba, Hammurah, ‘Irbin, Duma, and Zamaika – all of which are east of Damascus.
“The Syrian regime has initiated an effort to rid the Damascus suburbs of opposition forces using the area as a base to stage attacks against regime targets in the capital. The regime has failed to clear dozens of Damascus neighborhoods of opposition elements, including neighborhoods targeted on August 21, despite employing nearly all of its conventional weapons systems. We assess that the regime’s frustration with its inability to secure large portions of Damascus may have contributed to its decision to use chemical weapons on August 21,” according to the report.
The U.S. also intercepted communications from a senior Assad regime official “intimately familiar with the offensive who confirmed that chemical weapons were used by the regime on August 21 and was concerned with the U.N. inspectors obtaining evidence.”
U.S. officials pointed out that Assad’s military “intensified the artillery barrage targeting many of the neighborhoods where the chemical attacks occurred” – about four times the normal shelling rate – to get rid of evidence of the use of chemical weapons.
The U.S. intelligence assessment was released a day after the British Parliament voted against taking military action in Syria. In a call with President Barack Obama on Friday, U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron “made clear that he strongly believes in the need for a tough and robust response to the appalling war crime committed by the Assad regime in Ghouta” although he accepts “the clear view of the House against British military action.”
In an afternoon press briefing, Secretary of State John Kerry stressed that the intelligence assessment on the attack was done “more than mindful of the Iraq experience”, referring to the Bush administration’s misleading claims about Saddam Hussein’s numerous stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction [WMD] to justify the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Much to the embarrassment of the United States and its allies – including the United Kingdom – no WMD were recovered in Iraq by U.S. or coalition forces.
“Our intelligence community has carefully reviewed and re-reviewed information regarding this attack,” Kerry assured. “We will not repeat that moment.”
Assad’s government has denied using chemical weapons and blamed the attacks on opposition forces.
U.S. officials reiterated that there has not been any evidence that the opposition had used chemical weapons.
The United Nations weapons inspectors are scheduled to leave Syria tomorrow and will debrief U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on their findings. The U.N. inspectors, however, were tasked to determine only whether chemical weapons were used in Syria but not who deployed them.
Moon has previously stated that the use of chemical weapons is “a crime against humanity [that] should result in serious consequences for the perpetrator.”
- WhiteHouse.gov: Government Assessment of the Syrian Government’s Use of Chemical Weapons on August 21, 2013
- WhiteHouse.gov: Readout of Briefing for Congressional Leaders on the Assad Regime’s Use of Chemical Weapons in Syria
- State.gov: Video of Secretary of State John Kerry’s press conference on Syria on Aug. 30, 2013
- WhatTheFolly.com: Transcript: Secretary of State John Kerry’s statement on U.S. intel report confirming use of chemical weapons in Syria
- Human Rights Watch: Syria: Witnesses Describe Alleged Chemical Attacks
- Doctors Without Borders: Syria: Thousands Suffering Neurotoxic Symptoms Treated in Hospitals Supported by MSF
- Doctors Without Borders: Response to Government References to MSF Syria Statement
- Amnesty International: Syria: Possible international armed intervention after alleged chemical weapons attack
- Amnesty International: International Community Has Failed to Address Crimes Committed in Syrian Conflict
- Gov.uk: Syria chemical weapons attack
- Gov.uk: Prime Minister’s phone call with President Obama
- UN.org: Syria: UN-Arab League envoy says ‘substance’ may have killed civilians, warns against military intervention
- UN.org: UN-Arab League envoy ‘confident’ conference on ending Syria crisis will take place
- UN.org: Use of chemical weapons in Syria would be ‘crime against humanity’ – Ban
- UN.org: UN chemical weapons inspection team to leave Syria on Saturday, will brief Ban
- UN.org: Syria: Ban begins consultations with UN Member States as chemical weapons team wraps up probe
- WhatTheFolly.com: Obama holds back on taking actions against Syria for alleged use of chemical weapons
- WhatTheFolly.com: Analysis: Defiant Assad tries to exploit Syrian nationalism to retain power
- WhatTheFolly.com: U.N. Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi presses Russia on ‘political solution’ to Syrian conflict
- WhatTheFolly.com: U.S. threatens ‘actions’ against Assad if chemical weapons are deployed in Syria
- Center for Disease Control: Facts About Sarin