White House counters Russian narrative on Sarin attack in Syria

by WorldTribune Staff, April 12, 2017

The evidence is quite clear that Syrian government forces were responsible for last week’s chemical weapons attack, a senior Trump administration official said on April 11.

Intelligence gathered from social media accounts, open source videos, reporting, imagery, and geospatial intelligence showed that the chemical attack was carried out by the Bashar Assad regime, the official said.

A Syrian man collects samples from the site of a suspected sarin gas attack in Khan Sheikhoun. /AFP/Getty Images

“I don’t think there’s evidence to the contrary at all.”

Russia and Syria continue to push the narrative that the deadly sarin gas leaked from a depot held by anti-Assad rebels in the town of Khan Sheikhoun after the depot was hit by a Syrian airstrike.

“The Russian and Syrian narratives are false, and there is depth of information that supports this,” the official said. “We don’t think it’s remotely possible for Syrians or Russians to fabricate this much information so quickly.”

According to the official, a Syrian military source told Russian state media on April 4 that Assad regime forces had not carried out any airstrike in Khan Sheikhoun, contradicting Russia’s claim.

“An open source video also shows where we believe the chemical munition landed — not on a military base filled with weapons, but in the middle of a street in the northern section of Khan Sheikhoun,” the official said, adding that U.S. intelligence does not show that any terrorist groups in the area have access to sarin.

“It is quite clear that this is not a terrorist-holding or use of sarin. We do know the Syrian regime has sarin, and there are outstanding questions that make quite clear Syria has not fully come clean on locations, facilities, types of agents involved with its chemical weapons program,” the official said.

Though not able to verify an Associated Press report that Russia knew in advance of the attack, the official said “it is a question worth asking the Russians.”

“It’s clear Russians are trying to cover up what happened there,” the official said, with regard to Syrian regime culpability.

“In terms of Russia’s narrative, starting in 2013, Russia has been on a clear campaign to obfuscate the nature of attacks, attackers, and what has happened. This is concerning since the Russians were part of the deal where Syria was supposed to give up its chemical weapons. We do know Syria gave up a huge amount of its chemical weapons, nevertheless, it is clear that Syria’s declaration was not complete.”

“We take very seriously that Syria may have additional agents elsewhere.”

To explain why the Assad regime would launch a chemical attack against its citizens when it did, the senior administration official said: “In the middle of March, opposition forces launched an offensive towards the major city of Hama, which is a strategic city in Syria, where a strategic airbase lies. At that point, the regime — we think — calculated that with its manpower spread quite thin, we believe the regime probably calculated at that point that chemical weapons were necessary to make up for manpower deficiency.”

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