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Syrian gov’t launched chemical rocket attack in 2018, says US intelligence report

Syrian soldiers load artillery shells in Kahil town on July 3, 2018, in Daraa Province, Syria. The Syrian army captured Kahil from the rebels. (Ammar Safarjalani/Xinhua/Zuma Press/TNS)
September 26, 2019

A U.S. intelligence assessment revealed Thursday has determined the Syrian government used rockets carrying a chlorine gas payload in a chemical weapons attack in May 2018.

The report was disclosed by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday, according to the Wall Street Journal, exposing the first confirmed violation of international chemical weapons accords since its signing in 2013.

“The United States will not allow these attacks to go unchallenged,” Pompeo said. “Nor will we tolerate those who chose to conceal these atrocities.”

The attack in question took place near the Syrian village of Kabana and came about as an effort by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to exert control over the Latakia province, the Wall Street Journal reported. The attack is just one act of aggression in a civil war in Syria that has been ongoing since 2011.

At least four people were wounded in the attack, though the Syrian government has denied involvement.

An unnamed U.S. official told the Wall Street Journal of concerns the Assad government may carry out another chemical weapon attack.

“We are concerned about Syria’s efforts to rebuild missile and chemical weapons,” the official reportedly said.

In his initial response to the 2018 Syrian chemical attacks, President Donald Trump has, on two occasions, authorized airstrikes on Syrian government forces.

Since the attack, the U.S. has also given $4.5 million in funding to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which investigates and oversees the efforts of nations to maintain accords banning chemical weapons.

In April 2017, the U.S. government also fired Tomahawk cruise missiles at a Syrian airbase suspected to have launched a previous chemical attack using Sarin nerve gas.

Following a report of Syrian chemical weapons use in 2013 that reportedly killed some 1,400 people, then-President Barrack Obama also authorized a military response but later called off the attack. Obama instead negotiated an agreement alongside the Assad’s ally Russia, to oversee the disposal of the Syrian government’s chemical weapons.

According to the Wall Street Journal, U.S. officials believe the Assad government kept some of the chemical weapon stockpiles and decided to use it to make up for manpower shortages caused by the ongoing war.

Britain and France are also expected to issue statements about the gas attacks, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The report comes amid intense fighting in the Syrian province of Idlib where Assad’s forces are trying to unseat the last Syrian rebel stronghold, with the assistance of Russian airpower. Iran has also backed Assad’s side of the conflict.

Russia and Iran have voiced support for a cessation to combat in Syria. Trump has also urged a drawdown U.S. troop presence in Syria, despite pushback.