At least least 336 chemical attacks, including sarin, chlorine gas, sulfur, and mustard gas have taken place in Syria since the start of that country’s civil war in 2011, according to a report released on Sunday by the Global Public Policy Institute.
Marking chemical attacks on civilians as of 2012, the reports authors note that the real number might be “significantly higher,” and that roughly 2 percent of those attacks could be linked to the self-proclaimed Islamic State. In other words, Syrians have been repeatedly subjected to attacks in this manner at the hands of Syrian forces under the order of President Bashar al-Assad.
And, the authors noted, there is no way to justify these attacks under the fog of war:
“It is clear that the Syrian military has consistently prioritized striking population centers over rebel positions on the frontlines, even in the face of defeat on the ground. Indeed, the Syrian regime’s persistent and widespread use of chemical weapons is best understood as part of its overall war strategy of collective punishment of populations in opposition-held areas.”
The horrific report also highlights the futility of the cornerstone of President Donald Trump’s scattershot Syria policy: Bombing a Syrian base connected to an April 2017 chemical attack.
At the time, the president spoke about Syrian children dying in that attack with disgust and heartbreak, ordering a strike of 59 Tomahawk missiles on the base. While it could be argued that Trump’s airstrike was justifiable, it’s ineffectiveness was very quickly revealed the next day, after the base was shown to be back up and running.
Nevertheless, the strike had some in the U.S. media in an outright swoon, denoting the incident as a major presidential milestone for Trump’s young presidency. Such fanfare was in short supply a year later, after an April 2018 chemical attack once again struck Syrian civilians, after which the U.S. and its allies targeted chemical weapons facilities.
Again, President Trump lashed out at the cruelty of the Assad regime:
Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria. Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and “smart!” You shouldn’t be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 11, 2018
Despite his admonitions, the Trump administration has not offered much assistance to the Syrian refugees fleeing both the brutality of ISIS as well as the continual attacks — chemical and conventional — from government forces.
President Barack Obama also failed on this front: In 2013 the U.S. reached an agreement with Russia — an Assad ally — to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons stock. But chlorine gas, which can be used for industrial, non-weapons purposes, was not covered by that action. Most of those chemical attacks — 90 percent, in fact — took place after President Obama declared the use of chemical weapons as his administration’s red line. Researchers from the Global Public Policy Institute have found that almost 92 percent of the chemical attacks on Syrian civilians have involved chlorine bombs.
As of now, President Trump is still insisting on pulling U.S. troops out of Syria by early spring, with no articulated plan of if and how the U.S. might be involved in rebuilding Syria or offering protection to civilians as the Assad regime re-establishes its control over the war-battered country.