The United States has concluded that forces allied with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad carried out a chemical weapons attack on rebel-held area just outside of Damascus last week, according to an unclassified summary of a U.S. Intelligence Community (IC) analysis released on Friday.
“We assess with high confidence that the Syrian government carried out the chemical weapons attack against opposition elements in the Damascus suburbs on August 21,” the analysis says. “We assess that the scenario in which the opposition executed the attack on August 21 is highly unlikely.”
The IC says that it based its conclusions not only from its own intelligence — “streams of human, signals and geospatial intelligence” — but also “accounts from international and Syrian medical personnel; videos; witness accounts; thousands of social media reports from at least 12 different locations in the Damascus area; journalist accounts; and reports from highly credible nongovernmental organizations.”
The US IC says Assad’s forces attacked the rebel strongholds with chemical weapons because they had failed to clear them with conventional means and rebels were using them as a base for attacks on regime targets in the capital. The U.S. government also says it has evidence of Assad’s forces preparing for the chemical attack and that “[m]ultiple streams of intelligence indicate that the regime executed a rocket and artillery attack against the Damascus suburbs in the early hours of August 21.”
The analysis says that thousands of victims’ symptoms in the aftermath of the attack “were consistent with mass exposure to a nerve agent” and that “the Syrian opposition does not have the capability to fabricate all of the videos, physical symptoms verified by medical personnel and NGOs, and other information associated with this chemical attack.”
“A preliminary U.S. government assessment determined that 1,429 people were killed in the chemical weapons attack, including at least 426 children, though this assessment will certainly evolve as we obtain more information,” the IC says.
“So the primary question is really no longer ‘what do we know,’” Secretary of State John Kerry said in a speech on Friday. “The question is what are we in the world going to do about it.”
While Kerry did not outline any specific policy decision, he noted that since their introduction in World War I, the world has been working to protect against the use of weapons of mass destruction and said “it matters here if nothing is done” in response to Assad’s use of chemical weapons. “It matters if the world speaks out in condemnation and nothing happens,” he said.
He said that the U.S. believes in the United Nations, but “because of the guaranteed Russian obstructionism of any action through the U.N. Security Council, the U.N. cannot galvanize the world to act as it should” and the Obama administration would continue to consult with Congress, U.S. allies and the American people on the path forward.
“Fatigue does not absolve us of our responsibility,” Kerry concluded. “History would judge us all extraordinarily harshly if we turned a blind eye to a dictator’s wanton use of weapons of mass destruction against all warnings, against all common understanding of decency.”