Posted tagged ‘Syria – chemical weapons’


April 11, 2018

KEVIN GOSZTOLA April 9, 2018 via Shadow Proof


{If the reports are true, who had the capability to drop huge cylinders of poisonous gas from the air? The rebels? I doubt it.  Furthermore, the US military actively monitors air traffic and communications all over Syria.  As a result, they know the origin of the air assaults and their very nature via monitored communications. – LS}

An alleged chemical weapons attack against Syrians in Douma preserves United States military involvement in the conflict. It even creates the possibility for a major escalation in U.S. intervention, with President Donald Trump pledging to announce a response to the attack in 24 to 48 hours.

However, the sources for claims about the alleged attack come from pro-rebel groups, including those who have aligned themselves with Salafi-leaning militias like the hard-line Jaysh al-Islam (or the Army of Islam) backed by Saudi Arabia.

Jaysh al-Islam came to dominate Douma in October 2013. Yassin al-Haj Saleh, a Syrian exile who wrote an op-ed for the New York Times on the Syrian government’s siege of Ghouta, said the group established a “despotic system, arresting, kidnapping, and assassinating people who did not comply with its dictates.”

In 2015, the militia locked dozens of captured army officers, who were from President Bashar al-Assad’s Alawite sect, in cages on rooftops and the streets of Douma. They were effectively used in the stunt as human shields to deter Syria government or Russian attacks.

There has been no independent confirmation that the Syrian government was responsible for the alleged attack. Media outlets, like CNN and NBC News, indicated they could not verify the claims. Yet, there is very little room for skepticism or tempered judgment in Western media reports

The expressions of skepticism are virtually all from Syrian government or Russian government officials. Even if these remarks included in news reports seem like they should be weighed against claims, to put forward this view invites immediate condemnation for “apologism” over Assad’s brutality or promoting the agenda of the Kremlin.

U.S. media largely have no desire to assess whether it is true or not that Assad used chemical weapons.

Former national security adviser for President Barack Obama, Tom Donilon, appeared on CNN. He said Trump should quickly establish evidence the Syria government was behind the attack. “It needs to be clear evidence,” he added.

Donilon was interrupted by host Wolf Blitzer, who said “we’ve seen the video of the children.” To which Donilon assured Blitzer he had no doubt that the Syrian government was responsible.

“I think the evidence is pretty persuasive at this point, but establish that solidly. You had 500 people, who sought medical assistance as a result of this attack. It’s consistent with past Syrian actions to try and clear out these areas right around Damascus. Only 10 miles from Damascus,” Donilon asserted.

If the media and government officials have all made up their mind that some kind of action must be taken before compiling evidence, it does not matter what is compiled. The evidence pieced together will be put together to justify an outcome already favored by the Western world, particularly as a way to counter the hegemonic influence of Russia, or to a lesser extent, Iran. (Israel already allegedly launched a strike on a Syrian air base used by Iranian troops.)

No Reliable Sources

It is nearly impossible to find independent reliable sources on what is unfolding in the Syrian war.

Government officials have an incentive, as all governments do, to lie about the nature of operations. So, too, do militia groups fighting the Syrian government have an incentive to control the narrative and ensure it is what they want the world to see, hear, and read, especially as the need for assistance from outside military forces increases sharply.

According to the New York Times, “It [is] not possible to independently verify the reports because Douma is surrounded by Syrian government forces, which prevent access by journalists, aid workers and investigators.”

That could also be true for areas in and around Eastern Ghouta that are controlled by Jaysh al-Islam. Any journalists, aid workers, or investigators questioning what activists are saying to media could be seen as a threat that needed to be expelled.

Still, it is important to at least attempt to examine the alleged chemical weapons attack and whether there is any concrete evidence beyond strongly held assumptions toward Assad and Russia to prove Syrian government forces were responsible.

Mahmoud Aadam is the spokesman for the White Helmets (or Syrian Civil Defense). The New York Times reported that Aadam said in a video on Facebook “15 people, including women and children, reported breathing problems after an airstrike in their area.” This happened Saturday afternoon.

“Then, after dark, a government helicopter dropped exploding barrels that dispersed an unknown chemical substance that affected many more people, Mr. Aadam said. The continued assaults made it hard for rescue workers to look for victims, he said, meaning that it was difficult to establish a comprehensive death toll.”

Haitham Bakkar, an activist with the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, told the Associated Press “several bombs laced with chemicals landed in Douma Saturday night.”

The AP also spoke to Bilal Abou Salah, who claimed “a large, yellow cylinder smashed through the roof of an apartment building and came to rest on the third floor and started to discharge gas.” He was labeled an activist and no other information about his affiliation with any organizations or militias included.

NBC News’ report contained vague details about what allegedly happened, with more specifics about the dead and wounded attributed to the White Helmets and “local activists,” whoever they may be.

Similarly, CNN reported, “Anti-government activists claimed Syrian military helicopters dropped barrel bombs filled with chemicals on the town, suffocating some residents and sending others into violent convulsions.” It is unclear if these activists are with the White Helmets or some other group.

A report from the Independent, based in the United Kingdom, contained much more severe allegations. “The pro-opposition Ghouta Media Center alleged that a helicopter had dropped a barrel bomb containing sarin, and another organization claimed that a hospital had been hit by a chlorine bomb.”

The Ghouta Media Center is a citizen journalism collective composed of individuals who are all “against the Syrian regime” and “work without conditions or restrictions.” They say they approach their work with “objectivity and professionalism in a manner that serves the revolution.”

One problem, however, is that this collective must deal with the power Salafi-leaning militias or jihadist rebel groups have in the opposition. The condition they work under is not putting out reporting that will get them killed. Such militias have an incentive to embellish or exaggerate reports of chemical weapons as they are deployed.

The White Helmets have gone to great lengths to make it seem they are a nonviolent group of rescuers, but they are strong advocates of regime change.

As journalist Max Blumenthal documented, photographs and videos have shown members of the White Helmets “boasting about discarding the body parts of Syrian troops in dumpsters, posing triumphantly on the corpses of Syrian soldiers, joining fighters accosting an alleged political opponent, waving the flag of al-Qaida affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra alongside jihadist fighters, and carrying weapons.” And in one instance, White Helmet members participated in an execution carried out by a member of al-Nusra.

Does any of this mean the White Helmets are fabricating or lying to the press about an alleged chemical weapons attack? There is no specific evidence at the moment, but it would not be the first time if this turned out to be the case.

Journalist Gareth Porter detailed in March 2017 how an account of an attack by a White Helmets chief on a “humanitarian aid convoy west of Aleppo City on September 19, 2016,” was entirely flawed.

From Porter’s analysis:

At first, [Ammar al-Selmo] claimed in an interview that he had been more than a kilometer away from the warehouses where the attack occurred and had seen Syrian helicopters dropping “barrel bombs” on the site. But his eyewitness account would have been impossible because it was already dark by the time he said the attack began at about 7:15 p.m. He changed his story in a later interview, claiming that he had been right across the street at the moment of the attack and had heard the “barrel bombs” being dropped rather than seeing them.

Selmo insisted in a video filmed that night that the attack began with Syrian helicopters dropping eight “barrel bombs,” which are described as large, crudely constructed bombs weighing from 250 kg to 500 kg or even more. Citing a box-shaped indentation in the rubble, Selmo said the video is showing “the box of the barrel bomb,” but the indentation is far too small to be a crater from such a bomb.

But Hussein Badawi, apparently the White Helmet official in charge of the Urum al Kubrah area,contradicted Selmo’s story. In a separate interview, Badawi said the attack had begun not with “barrel bombs” but with “four consecutive rockets” that he said had been launched by government forces from their defense plant in Aleppo province – meaning that it was a ground-launched attack rather than an air attack.

In an email response to a query from me, Selmo retracted his own original claim about the S-5 rockets. “[B]efore aircraft’s attack on the area,” he wrote, “many land to land missiles attacked the place coming from the defense factories which [are] located in eastern Aleppo [east of] the city, regime controlled area. [T]hen aircraft came and attacked the place.”…

Nevertheless, the White Helmet chief’s “dramatic narrative of a Russian-Syria air attack” formed the basis of a United Nation panel’s report on the attack.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights may be capable of accurately tracking casualty counts in the war, but it is a one-man operation. Rami Abdul Rahman, who fled Syria over 13 years ago, conducts work from within the United Kingdom. His organization concedes it cannot be certain about chemicals allegedly reported to have been deployed in Douma.

Rebel Group’s Very Existence Threatened

Over the last months, Syrian forces greatly intensified their campaign to regain control of the area of Eastern Ghouta, which includes Douma.

Haitham Bakkar told the AP in March it was “very tense because it is unclear what will happen next. He said it was a question of existence for the Army of Islam fighters, most of whom are from Douma.”

“If the Army of Islam goes to northern Syria it will be its end,” Bakkar declared.

As AP reported, “Douma, on the northeastern edge of Damascus,” was “the last rebel holdout in the eastern Ghouta region after thousands of fighters from the Ahrar al-Sham and Faylaq al-Rahman groups ceded their towns to government control under a deal brokered by Russia, a key ally of Assad.” (Ahrar al-Sham is a Salafiorganization and Faylaq al-Rahman is an ultraconservative religious group.)

While this pressure from Syria and Russian officials to leave eastern Ghouta increased, days later, President Donald Trump signaled it was time for the U.S. military to prepare for withdrawal from Syria.  “I want to get out. I want to bring our troops back home.”

Trump has completely abandoned this talk after seeing videos of children struggling to breathe after an alleged chemical weapons attack. He is contemplating retaliation that may resemble the attack on Shayrat air base, which occurred almost exactly one year ago also after an alleged chemical weapons attack.

Would Jaysh al-Islam use chemical weapons in a last-ditch effort to save their existence? Does the group have chemical weapons?

Kurdish officials claimed in 2016 that Syrian rebels with Jaysh al-Islam likely deployed chlorine gas against Kurdish forces in Aleppo.

“One of our commanders has unlawfully used a type of weapon that is not included in our list,” a statement posted on the group’s Twitter account read.

The Islamist group didn’t say what type of weapon was used but it said the commander has been referred to an internal martial court.

Notably, none of the media reports contain comments from Jaysh al-Islam on what transpired in the past few days. But if Western media had any interest in sorting out the truth of what unfolded in the last week, they would ask leaders of Jaysh al-Islam if they possessed chemical weapons and used them to drum up sympathy for their dire situation.


In Syria, Trump’s Red Line May be Holding

June 29, 2017

In Syria, Trump’s Red Line May be Holding, Front Page MagazineJoseph Klein, June 29, 2017

It is not only what Assad has been doing in unleashing his ghastly chemical weapons on his own people, causing horrible suffering in their wake, which demands our attention. After all, Assad has been causing such suffering with conventional weapons as well, including his use of barrel bombs, which we have repeatedly condemned but have not taken specific military action to stop. To do so would almost inevitably draw us into a wider war. What makes chemical and other weapons of mass destruction different is their potential proliferation to the very Islamic terrorists we are trying to defeat.


Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis claimed Wednesday that the Syrian regime has drawn back from plans to conduct another chemical attack, following a warning by the Trump administration of serious consequences if Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces followed through with their plans. 

U.S. intelligence detected “active preparations for chemical weapons use” at the same air base from which the regime allegedly had launched its prior chemical attack last April that caused mass casualties. President Trump had responded to the April chemical attack with a barrage of cruise missiles targeting that air base. The White House issued its public warning to the Assad regime on Monday in unambiguous terms, declaring that Assad and his military would pay a “heavy price” if his regime conducted another chemical attack.

“It appears that they took the warning seriously. They didn’t do it,” Mattis told reporters.

Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, went even further in crediting the Trump administration for stopping Assad at least for now. “I can tell you that due to the President’s actions, we did not see an incident,” Ambassador Haley claimed at a House of Representatives foreign affairs committee hearing. “I would like to think that the President saved many innocent men, women and children.”

It is difficult to prove what may have actually motivated Assad. In any case, whether Assad holds back for good remains to be seen. But we do know the Trump administration is watching constantly for any moves by the Assad regime that could signal an imminent chemical attack and has military assets in place to swiftly respond to such an attack, if not prevent one in the first place.

President Trump not only demonstrated last April that he would follow through on his threats if certain red lines of his were crossed, unlike our previous president. In addition to its warning, the Trump administration may have sent some concrete signals to the Assad regime that it means business this time as well. According to Debkafile, “Signs were gathering in Washington and the Middle East Tuesday, June 26 that the Trump administration was preparing a substantial military operation against the Syrian army and Bashar Assad’s allies, such as the foreign pro-Iranian Shiite militias and Hizballah. Some US military sources suggested that an American preemptive strike was in store in the coming hours to prevent Assad’s army from again resorting to chemical warfare against his people.”

Assad may still decide to launch another chemical attack, figuring that his key allies, particularly Russia, will continue to back him. No doubt, he took note of Russia’s stern response to the U.S.’s downing of a Syrian warplane earlier this month, including a warning from the Russian Defense Ministry that “All kinds of airborne vehicles, including aircraft and UAVs of the international coalition detected to the west of the Euphrates River will be tracked by the Russian SAM systems as air targets.” The Syrian regime had also already taken some precautions by moving most of its operational aircraft to a Russian airbase in Syria after the April missile strike. The Russian airbase is protected by fairly advanced air defense systems. An American missile strike on Syrian aircraft located at a Russian air base would in all likelihood be seen as a major escalation of the war by the Russian government, risking a direct military confrontation between U.S. and Russia that the Trump administration may be loath to risk. As if to thumb his nose at the Trump administration’s latest threats by demonstrating the strength of his military alliance with Russia, Assad was seen strutting around a Russian air baseinspecting its aircraft and defense systems. He was even photographed sitting in the cockpit of a Russian fighter jet.

Indeed, Russia appears ready to raise the stakes to bolster the Syrian dictator’s regime. Debkafile reports that Russia is “building a new base in southeastern Syria,” which would “provide Russia with a lever of control over the volatile Syrian southeast and its borders, where US-backed and Iranian-backed forces are fighting for dominance.”

As Russia raises the stakes, the U.S. must be clearer than ever as to its strategic objectives in Syria, which it is willing to back up with military force even in the face of Russian threats.  We must do all we can to prevent getting sucked into Syria’s civil war, including by undertaking any military efforts at regime change. That said, we must repel any military action by the Syrian regime or its allies that would prevent us from prosecuting the war against ISIS, which remains our number one objective until the ISIS sanctuaries, infrastructure and leadership are for all intents and purposes destroyed.

However, we also cannot ignore the threat that Assad’s chemical weapons program continues to pose. The Obama administration had thought that it had largely eliminated the threat “diplomatically,” when it reached a phony deal with Russia to oversee the removal and destruction of the Syrian regime’s declared chemical weapons. The opportunity for cheating was all too plain to see, except by Obama and his clueless Secretary of State John Kerry. We are now seeing the consequences. According to Secretary of Defense Mattis, Syria’s chemical program remains intact.

It is not only what Assad has been doing in unleashing his ghastly chemical weapons on his own people, causing horrible suffering in their wake, which demands our attention. After all, Assad has been causing such suffering with conventional weapons as well, including his use of barrel bombs, which we have repeatedly condemned but have not taken specific military action to stop. To do so would almost inevitably draw us into a wider war. What makes chemical and other weapons of mass destruction different is their potential proliferation to the very Islamic terrorists we are trying to defeat. The transfer of chemical or biological weapons to terrorist hands would represent the most dangerous outcome of the Syrian conflict to the rest of the world, including to the United States. That is why we must monitor where we believe Assad’s remaining chemical weapons and production facilities are located, prevent them from being used or even moved from known locations, do all that we can to keep them out of the hands of the terrorists and destroy the chemical weapons and production facilities when the opportunity presents itself.

Assad shown around Russian Latakia air base

June 28, 2017

Assad shown around Russian Latakia air base, DEBKAfile, June 28, 2017

President Assad inspects Russian weapons systems at the Hmeimim air base in western Syria.

Shortly after Washington warned Damascus against any more chemical attacks and stressed that Russia and Iran would also be held to account, Syrian ruler Bashar Assad’s visit to the Russian Hmeimim Air Base in Latakia on Tuesday, June 27, bears striking symbolic, if not provocative, significance. Their guest from Damascus was shown around the base by the commanders of Russian forces in Syria and allowed a close look at the warplanes and attack helicopters lined up for his perusal. Indeed, as DEBKAfile’s military sources show in the series of attached photographs, Assad had his picture taken while sitting in the cockpit of a Russian fighter jet and while he was closely examining Russian S-400 and S-300 air defense missile batteries.

Not all the photos showed the base neatly prepared for a formal visit. A group of Russian troops were seen in a variety of work clothes standing untidily around some of the weapons systems, indicating that Assad’s visit was improvised in a hurry as an attempt to show that Moscow and Damascus were as tight as ever and ready together to repel any American attack on Syrian military targets.

Assad sits in the cockpit of a Russian fighter jet.

WATCH: Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin Announces Sanctions After Syria Chemical Attack

April 24, 2017

WATCH: Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin Announces Sanctions After Syria Chemical Attack, Fox News via YouTube, April 24, 2017


Message in the MOAB

April 14, 2017

Message in the MOAB, Power LineScott Johnson, April 14, 2017

(Just for the halibut, please see also ‘March for Science’ Group Laments Trump’s Bombing Of ‘Marginalized’ ISIS Fighters. — DM)

Last week President Trump authorized a limited missile strike against the Syrian regime for its use of chemical weapons against civilians. I explicated what I thought was “the message in the missiles” (I stretched to find 10 messages). Yesterday the United States dropped the “mother of all bombs” — the most powerful conventional bomb in the American arsenal — on an Islamic State cave complex in Afghanistan on Thursday. The MOAB is the colloquial name given to the GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast.

Here is the New York Times story on the Pentagon’s announcement. It is about as bad as one might expect under the circumstances. The Times seems mystified by the whole thing, taking it as another in an endless series of black marks against President Trump.

Like the military reprisal against the Syrian regime, the MOAB send a message or 10. Herewith, as William F. Buckley used to say, a few observations:

1. The MOAB has been around since 2002, but this is the first time it has been used in combat. It was used to achieve a specific military purpose (see notes 8 & 9 below) with respect to which the Obama administration had previously refrained. When I say “refrained,” I mean “restrained the military.” The era of Obama foreign policy is over.

2. Trump himself expanded on this point at the White House yesterday. He asserted there’s been a “tremendous difference” militarily between the Obama administration and the Trump administration. “If you look at what’s happened over the last eight weeks and compare that to really what’s happened over the last eight years, you’ll see there’s a tremendous difference,” Trump said. “And this was another very successful mission,” he added.

3. Trump elaborated. “Everybody knows exactly what happened. What I do, I authorized my military. We have given them total authorization. That’s what they’re doing.”

4. The MOAB serves as a reminder of other tools in the chest. The MOAB is not our biggest non-nuclear weapon. That is the Massive Ordnance Penetrator, or MOP. The National Interest reminds us that our Air Force also fields the GBU-57A/B Massive Ordnance Penetrator (MOP), which is a massive precision-guided 30,000lb bunker-busting weapon usually dropped from a Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit stealth bomber.

5. The MOAB therefore sent a message to North Korea. It put an exclamation point on the military reprisal against the Syrian regime. It reiterated that the era of Obama foreign policy is over. Trump himself professed agnosticism on this point, but this was the message to North Korea: “I don’t know if this sends a message. It doesn’t make any difference if it does or not. North Korea is a problem. The problem will be taken care of.” What we see here is akin to the rhetorical device of apophysis or praeteritio.

6. Not coincidentally, NBC News reports: “U.S. may launch strike if North Korea reaches for nuclear trigger.” The use of the MOAB in Afghanistan makes the leaks here highly credible.

7. The MOAB sent a message to Iran. I can’t find a citation to support me here, but it’s obvious. What goes for North Korea goes for Iran.

8. The use of the bomb had a specific military purpose. As former intelligence officer and Army veteran Michael Pregent commented explained on FOX News last night, ISIS fighters in Afghanistan are using the massive tunnel complex that Al Qaeda used starting back in 2001 when U.S. forces were deployed to Afghanistan. “They used the same tunnel complex for bin Laden to escape to Pakistan,” Pregent said. “The Haqqani network, a terrorist organization out of Pakistan, uses it to bring in lethal aid. So you have these organizations like Al Qaeda, the Haqqani group, the Taliban and now ISIS using a tunnel complex to kill Americans in the past.” Thomas Spoehr has more to the same effect here.

9. At NRO, David French highlights what he calls “an important and painful point about our almost 16-year long war [in Afghanistan].” This is the point: “Excessive American caution has cost American lives and American limbs, and it has left families and friends of the victims with deep psychological wounds. Those wounds would be grievous enough in the best circumstances, but they’re compounded by the fact that many of the decisions not to shoot, not to use artillery, or not to drop bombs were based on a combination of rules of engagement and military misjudgments that were transparently foolish at the time.” (Please do read the whole thing.)

10. Don’t let me forget to mention that the Obama era in American foreign policy is over.

The White House A-Team

April 14, 2017

The White House A-Team, Bill Whittle Channel via YouTube, April 13, 2017

A breakdown on Trump’s dream team of Rex Tillerson, Nikki Haley, and H.R. McMaster after recent occurrences in Syria conflict.

America is back, and Russia is listening

April 13, 2017

America is back, and Russia is listening, Israel Hayom, Boaz Bismuth, April 13, 2017

Trump knows what Obama refused to acknowledge — that the U.S. cannot shirk its duty as the world’s policeman and the region’s sheriff. Obama hoped that he could just ignore this region or let others lead.


In September 2013, Russian President Vladimir Putin hosted the G-20 summit in St. Petersburg. This was just days after then-U.S. President Barack Obama effectively decided not to take military action against Syrian President Bashar Assad, who had just used chemical weapons against his people. Two years later, having realized that the U.S. left a vacuum in the region, Russia returned with a force not seen since the end of the Cold War.

U.S. President Donald Trump, who was sworn in less than 100 days ago, has decided to change the political equation the Russians have created. Surprisingly, the Russians are willing to listen, despite their repeated mention of the sorry state of relations between Moscow and Washington.

The U.S. media is fond of reporting on Trump’s so-called illicit ties to the Russian government. But the truth of the matter is that it was Obama, in 2013, who tried to cozy up to the Russians, because he wanted to reach a nuclear deal with Iran — which he considered the most important part of his legacy, much more than an intervention in Syria.

Russian-American relations reached “a low point,” as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said this week, as a result of the situation in Syria. But both superpowers are still determined to fight terrorism together and support an international inquiry of the chemical attack in Syria’s Idlib province last week.

The joint press conference Tillerson held with his counterpart Sergey Lavrov on Wednesday underscored the fact that superpowers have their own language, and when the U.S. talks like the superpower that it is, Russia has no choice but to play along, even if the Russians made sure Tillerson had to wait until the very last moment before he was told he could meet Putin in Moscow (and the meeting was only two hours long).

Despite all that has been said on Russia-U.S. relations, it is important to note that relations between two big powers are by definition different than any other forms of bilateral relations. Moreover, the current escalation is a plus for Russia because it puts it on equal footing with the U.S. That is why Russia made sure Tillerson’s visit had all the hallmarks of a summit in which the world’s leading superpowers determine how the world is going to run. As far as the Russians are concerned, this is the main accomplishment of the meeting. In the grand scheme of things, it is a win-win for both sides: Trump can distance himself from Russia, and Putin can prove that he can stand up to the Americans.

Despite what most people think, Trump actually acted strategically when he ordered the missile strike last week on a Syrian airbase in retaliation for Assad’s use of chemical weapons. The strike was designed to send a much wider and strategic message, that would resonate well beyond Syria — in Iran, in North Korea and in Russia. It was designed to make sure people think twice before they mess with the U.S.

Trump knows what Obama refused to acknowledge — that the U.S. cannot shirk its duty as the world’s policeman and the region’s sheriff. Obama hoped that he could just ignore this region or let others lead.

Yours truly predicted Trump would be tested in his first months in office, just like President Ronald Reagan was tested in his first year in office. Back then Reagan had to respond to air traffic controllers who went on strike at federal airports; now Trump has to deal with the Russians and Assad. Trump has no qualms about doing an about-face, even on issues that he is not supposed to care about. Both Reagan and Trump changed the rules of the game when they responded to those early tests. Such behavior creates the element of surprise and proves that a president is willing to act like a madman.