US releases intelligence on Syria chemical attack: 5 takeaways
US report released Friday asserts an Aug. 21 attack in Syria involved chemical weapons – and concludes confidence is 'high' that the Assad regime, not Syrian rebels, is responsible. It also offers answers on what, when, where, and why.
The US government assesses with “high confidence” that the Syrian government turned chemical weapons on its own citizens in the Damascus suburbs on Aug. 21, according to a long-awaited declassified US intelligence assessment.Skip to next paragraph
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That judgment is based on reports from human informants, intercepted communications, and overhead spy photos, says the terse four-page document. A total of 1,429 people, including 426 children, were killed in an attack that most likely involved nerve gas, says US intelligence.
“Our high confidence assessment [of what happened] is the strongest position that the US Intelligence Community can take short of confirmation,” says the document.
US officials have been promising all week that the administration would release a scrubbed intelligence analysis of the Syrian incident. The basic conclusions of the report, released Friday, closely follow statements the White House has been making for days.
In other words, it concludes that the tragic event was a chemical weapons strike, that the regime of Bashar al-Assad was responsible, and that there is no way Syrian rebels could have carried it out, as Mr. Assad claims.
That said, details of the report raised some interesting questions while shedding light on exactly what occurred that tragic day:
How long has this been going on? For one thing, the intelligence paper confirms that the US believes Assad had already crossed Mr. Obama’s “red line” prior to Aug. 21.
“We assess with high confidence that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons on a small scale against the opposition multiple times in the last year, including in the Damascus suburbs,” says the paper.
Experts outside government have charged that it is possible Assad has used chemicals as many as 14 times in the ongoing civil war. This may have led the Syrian leader to believe he could use them with impunity, “red line” or no.
What was the point of using such weapons? The US intelligence document says Assad has used chemical weapons in the past primarily to seize and hold strategically valuable territory. The Syrian military sees nerve gas as just one more weapon, and not something uniquely horrible, in this assessment.
That said, the Assad regime has been unable to oust pockets of resistance in the Damascus suburbs, from whence rebels have continued to attack the capital city. That failure may have led to the larger, more deadly chemical strike.