United States Secretary of State John Kerry said Friday that the US intelligence community has concluded that the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is responsible for killing more than 1,000 people with chemical gas last week near Damascus.
In a statement released in tandem with Kerry’s remarks from the State Department headquarters in Washington, DC Friday afternoon, the US government says they assess “with high confidence” that the government of Pres. Assad carried out a chemical weapons attack in the Damascus suburbs on August 21, 2013.
According to the remarks made by Sec. Kerry, the assault last week caused the deaths of at least 1,429 Syrians, including no fewer than 426 children.
But despite days of research and an international investigation, the US says they cannot declare with 100 percent certainty at this time that Assad’s regime was responsible.
“Our high confidence assessment is the strongest position that the US Intelligence Community can take short of confirmation,” the report reads in part. “We will continue to seek additional information to close gaps in our understanding of what took place.”
Nevertheless, Kerry all but confirmed on Friday that Assad
ordered the use of nerve gas against civilians last week.
“[W]e know that the Syrian regime’s elements were told to prepare for the attack by putting on gas masks and taking precautions associated with chemical weapons. We know that these were specific instructions. We know where the rockets were launched from and at what time. We know where they landed and when. We know rockets came only from regime-controlled areas and went only to opposition controlled or contested neighborhoods,” he said.
“We have a body of information, including past Syrian practice, that leads us to conclude that regime officials were witting of and directed the attack on August 21,” the accompanying document claims.
“To conclude, there is a substantial body of information that implicates the Syrian government’s responsibility in the chemical weapons attack that took place on August 21.As indicated, there is additional intelligence that remains classified because of sources and methods concerns that is being provided to Congress and international partners,” it says.
During the Friday press conference, Kerry urged Americans and those in the international community to read the declassified report that has been published by the US government. One day earlier, he said US President Barack Obama went over the intelligence with his national security team, who then met with leaders of Congress and the lawmakers on the congressional national security committees.
“Its findings are as clear as they are compelling,” he said of the report. “I'm not asking you to take my word for it. Read for yourself, everyone, those listening, all of you, read for yourselves the evidence from thousands of sources, evidence that is already publicly available.”
Among that evidence, Kerry said, is proof collected from thousands of sources suggesting the Syrian government launched a gas attack last week.
“With our own eyes we have seen the thousands of reports from 11 separate sites in the Damascus suburbs. All of them show and report victims with breathing difficulties, people twitching with spasms, coughing, rapid heartbeats, foaming at the mouth, unconsciousness and death. And we know it was ordinary Syrian citizens who reported all of these horrors,” Kerry said.
“And just as important,” he added, “we know what the doctors and the nurses who treated them didn't report -- not a scratch, not a shrapnel wound, not a cut, not a gunshot sound. We saw rows of dead lined up in burial shrouds, the white linen unstained by a single drop of blood.
“Instead of being tucked safely in their beds at home, we saw rows of children lying side by side, sprawled on a hospital floor, all of them dead from Assad's gas and surrounded by parents and grandparents who had suffered the same fate,” the secretary continued
In addition to social media posts, videos taken after the attacks and first-hand reports, Kerry said the US relied on signals intelligence and geospatial intelligence to conclude Assad’s regime ordered the attack.
Intelligence offering a glimpse into Assad’s army, said Kerry, proved that chemical weapons officials in charge of the nation’s arsenal of warheads were making preparations days ahead of the attack.
According to the report, US intelligence sources could not detect any indication in the days before the assault that opposition affiliates, as reported by some, were planning to use chemical weapons.
Some signals intelligence intercepted, the report added, showed a senior Assad regime official “intimately familiar with the offensive” confirming the army used chemical weapons on Aug. 21, “and was concerned with the UN inspectors obtaining evidence.”
According to the report, the Syrian chemical weapons personnel were directed to cease operations on the 21 and begin shelling the surrounding area for five days,
The document also rejects the allegation that video footage
showing the Aug. 21 assault was fabricated, and concludes that
the Syrian opposition lacks the capability to fake the assault,
or the effects of nerve gas.
Earlier this week, senior US government officials said on condition of anonymity to Associated Press reporters that the US lacked significant evidence linking Assad to chemical weapon use. Multiple officials, the AP reported Thursday morning, used the phrase “not a slam dunk” to discuss the credibility of intelligence linking chemical weapon use directly to Pres. Assad