Pentagon backs White House statement of possible chemical prep in Syria
June 27 (UPI) — The Pentagon said Tuesday that possible chemical weapons activity has been observed at an airbase in Syria, where a gas attack was purportedly launched from in April — and prompted a retaliatory U.S. missile strike.
Capt. Jeff Davis, a Defense Department spokesman, told reporters Tuesday that preparations activity has been seen at the Al Shayrat airfield in west-central Syria — and that it’s possibly a sign that President Bashar Assad is planning a chemical strike.
Davis said the information has been collected over the last few days, but has gotten “more compelling” in the past 24 hours.
“We have observed activities at Shayrat Air Base that suggest possible intent by the Syrian regime to use chemical weapons again,” another Pentagon spokesman, Adrian Rankine-Galloway, told Voice of America. “These activities are similar to what we observed prior to the regime[‘s] chemical weapons attack against Khan Sheikhoun in April.”
The sarin gas attack in April killed and injured hundreds of Syrian civilians, including women and children. That event drew a retaliatory strike of 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles on the airfield ordered by President Donald Trump.
“The continued brutality of the Assad regime and his use of chemical weapons presents a clear threat to regional stability and security, as well as the national security interests of the United States and our allies,” Rankine-Galloway added.
Assad has long denied suggestions that his regime possesses chemical weapons.
Tuesday’s news came one day after the White House made a similar statement about detecting possible chemical weapons preparations at the Al Shayrat field.
“The United States is in Syria to eliminate the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria,” White House spokesman Sean Spicer said. “If, however, Mr. Assad conducts another mass murder attack using chemical weapons, he and his military will pay a heavy price.”
The Syrian government, though, has denied the allegations that it is preparing chemical weapons for use — calling the White House’s remarks a provocation.
U.S. President Donald Trump and his French counterpart, Emmanuel Macron, agreed Tuesday on a joint response in the event of another chemical attack in Syria, AFP reported.
The tough language, in a phone call between the two leaders, came a day after the White House said that President Bashar Al-Assad’s regime was preparing a potential chemical weapons attack.
Trump and Macron agreed Tuesday on “the need to work on a joint response in the event of a chemical attacks in Syria”, according to AFP.
On Monday, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said that U.S. intelligence agencies have evidence suggesting the Syrian government is preparing for a large-scale chemical attack, similar to the strike near the city of Idlib in April which left dozens dead and hundreds more with serious injuries.
“The United States has identified potential preparations for another chemical weapons attack by the Assad regime that would likely result in the mass murder of civilians, including innocent children,” Spicer said.
The White House warned Assad that a new chemical weapons attack would not go unpunished.
On Tuesday, U.S. defense officials reported that the Pentagon had observed new activity “associated with chemical weapons” at a Syrian aircraft hangar from which the April chemical weapons attack on civilians is believed to have originated.
The April attack on the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhun was reported to have killed at least 87 people, including many children, and images of the dead and of suffering victims provoked global outrage.
After a meeting last month with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Macron had drawn a “very clear red line” on the use of chemical weapons in Syria and warned of reprisals.
Macron has also said that he sees no legitimate successor to Assad and that France no longer considered his departure a precondition to resolving the six-year conflict.