Monday, 17 December, 2018

Mattis says Syria's government taking US threat seriously

U.S. Navy U.S. Navy
Kenny Thornton | 28 June, 2017, 23:03

US and allied intelligence officers had for some time identified several sites where they suspected Assad's government may have been hiding newly made chemical weapons from inspectors, a USA official familiar with the intelligence said.

Pentagon spokesman Navy Captain Jeff Davis said that the United States had seen "activity" at Shayrat airfield that showed "active preparations for chemical weapons use".

Moscow Wednesday blasted US claims that the Syrian regime could be preparing for another chemical attack as a "provocation".

"It appears that they took the warning seriously", Mattis said, referring to the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

At the time Syrian President Beshar al-Assad dismissed allegations of the chemical attack as "100% fabrication".

In the country's south, USA forces have sporadically bombed Iranian-backed militias in what the Pentagon has called acts of self-defense.

The U.S. attack on a Syrian air base came after years of heated debate and deliberation in Washington over intervention in the bloody civil war.

In April, Trump ordered nearly 60 cruise missiles to be fired at the Shayrat base after accusing Syria of killing dozens of civilians in a sarin gas attack.

Mattis did not say if the Pentagon had seen activity elsewhere, but indicated that Assad's chemical weapons program remains firmly intact despite his earlier pledges to dismantle it.

He did not say how the United States collected its intelligence.

Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince: The man who will be king
The move wasn't totally unanticipated as a possibility, but has far-reaching consequences. He had, however, been reported intermittently to be in very poor health.

A senior Russian lawmaker dismissed the US warning as "provocation".

The U.S.is providing air support and arms to Kurdish-led Syrian forces who are fighting to drive the Islamic State group from Raqqa, the extremists' self-styled capital.

In April, US President Donald Trump launched an attack on Syria with 59 Tomahawk missiles, which targeted Shayrat Airbase near the city of Homs.

Shortly after the White House statement late Monday, Haley posted her approval of it via Twitter.

The U.S. strike in April was the first direct American assault on the Syrian government and Trump's most dramatic military order since becoming president.

The Syrian government was supposed to have destroyed its chemical weapons stockpiles after global inspectors visited the country between 2013 and 2014.

"And when he didn't cross that line after making the threat, I think that set us back a long ways, not only in Syria, but in many other parts of the world, because it was a blank threat", Trump had said.

The State Department officials weren't authorized to discuss national security planning publicly and requested anonymity.

"As we have previously stated, the United States is in Syria to eliminate the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria", the White House said in a statement.

On Tuesday, the deputy White House spokeswoman, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said "all relevant agencies", including the Pentagon, State and key intelligence agencies, "were involved in the process from the beginning".

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