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article imageOp-Ed: Many competing narratives about the Syrian chemical attack

By Ken Hanly     Apr 13, 2017 in World
A US government report in a declassified intelligence assessment that it is confident that the Syrian regime conducted a chemical weapons attack using the nerve agent sarin.
The US report claims that the chemical agent was delivered by a Syrian Su-22 fixed wing aircraft that flew over the village of Khan Sheikhun at the time of the attack. The attack killed at least 87 civilians on the fourth of April including 31 children. The entire report can be found here.
The report presents evidence for Assad's responsibility that reads in part: "Additionally, our information indicates personnel historically associated with Syria's chemical weapons programme were at Shayrat airfield in late March making preparations for an upcoming attack in northern Syria, and they were present at the airfield on the day of the attack." The report says its conclusions relay on satellite imagery, laboratory analysis of physiological samples from victims and a "significant body of open source reporting" that the report claims could not have been fabricated. The report says that not all available intelligence was released to protect sources but it affirms that the sarin gas was released from a pipe dropped from the air.
An unidentified senior intelligence officer said that the US intercepted communications between Syrian military and chemical weapons experts discussing plans for the poison gas attack in Idblib province. Of course the officer stressed that the US did not have prior knowledge of the tests. Yet if the talks were just discussing plans why were the talks discovered only after the attack took place? Given that the US knew that chemical weapons people were at the base, how is it they did not search for such communications right away and then they could have warned Assad what he could face if he carried out the attack? The US could have saved many lives.
There is some doubt about the story. The Russian Foreign Ministry has claimed that the chemical agents were dispersed as the result of an attack on a warehouse where the rebels stored chemicals. Recently Russian President Putin clamed that opposition forces had tried to frame the Syrian government by placing chemical weapons in civilian areas and then blame Assad's forces. Putin said: “We have information from various sources that similar provocations — and I have no other word for that — are being prepared in other regions of Syria, including southern suburbs of Damascus, where they intend to plant certain substance again and accuse official Syrian authorities of using it.” This may be said in order to forestall any rebel attempt to provide a justification for more bombing.
Syrian president Bashar Assad was also dismissive of the charge that he carried out the chemical attack: "Definitely, 100 percent for us, it's fabrication. Our impression is that the West, mainly the United States, is hand-in-glove with the terrorists. They fabricated the whole story in order to have a pretext for the attack. " It seems highly unlikely that the attack was 100 percent fabrication. There is no doubt that over 80 were killed by whatever happened. There is simply disagreement as to how it happened.
Among the accounts contradicting the US official account is that of retired US intelligence officer Colonel Patrick Lang: The Russians briefed the United States on the proposed target. This is a process that started more than two months ago. [prior to the Chemical Weapons attack] There is a dedicated phone line that is being used to coordinate and deconflict (i.e., prevent US and Russian air assets from shooting at each other) the upcoming operation. The United States was fully briefed on the fact that there was a target in Idlib and that the Russians believed it was a weapons/explosives depot for Islamic rebels.
The Syrian Air Force hit the target with conventional weapons. All involved expected to see a massive secondary explosion. That did not happen. Instead, smoke, chemical smoke, began billowing from the site. It turns out that the Islamic rebels used that site to store chemicals, not sarin, that were deadly. The chemicals included organic phosphates and chlorine and they followed the wind and killed civilians.
Until we get an objective independent study of the event we are unlikely to find out what happened and it is quite probable that we will not find out even then as much of the evidence will have been destroyed, altered, or new evidence planted. Syria and Russia are asking for such an investigation but Russia vetoed the last draft resolution submitted by France, the UK, and the US on Wednesday. It is not surprising that it did so but that is another story. The US and allies can use the veto to claim that Russia and Syria do not want an objective investigation. The appended video shows an angry shocked CNN interviewer when a member of Congress expresses doubt about the official story.
UPDATE: Found this new article with an analysis by Dr. Theodore Postol, professor of science, technology, and national security policy at MIT. His main expertise is in ballistic missiles. He has a substantial background in air dispersal, including how toxic plumes move in the air. Postol has taught courses on weapons of mass destruction – including chemical and biological threats – at MIT.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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