According to a report in Foreign Policy, U.S. intelligence agents intercepted "panicked" phone calls last Wednesday between officials at the Syrian Ministry of Defense and the leaders of a Syrian chemical weapons unit. The calls, along with visual evidence, are the principal reasons the Obama administration believes the Syrian government is responsible for last week's alleged chemical weapon assault against Syrian civilians. Earlier this week, Secretary of State John Kerry called the alleged attacks a "moral obscenity" and President Obama ordered the release of a document justifying a military strike against Syria.
In the intercepted phone calls, one official at the Syrian Ministry of Defense reportedly demands answers from the chemical weapons unit's leader for the alleged chemical weapons attack that killed over 1,300 people last week. While the phone calls, if true, would prove that the Syrian government was responsible for the attacks, it would raise other questions, like was the attack intentionally ordered by Assad's government or was it work of a rogue Syrian officer?
"It's unclear where control lies," one U.S. intelligence official told The Cable. "Is there just some sort of general blessing to use these things? Or are there explicit orders for each attack?"
"We don't know exactly why it happened," the intelligence official added. "We just know it was pretty fucking stupid."
What is known by American authorities is that the alleged chemical attack took place on August 21, though the U.S. still lacks hard evidence from the scene – soil samples, blood, etc. The United Nations is in the process of collecting such evidence, but the White House is debating whether or not to wait for the U.N.'s confirmation.
Meanwhile, the New York Times is reporting that a U.S. strike would be intended to "deter and degrade" Assad's forces, rather than removing Assad from power. The strikes reportedly would be "a far more limited unleashing of American military power than past air campaigns over Kosovo or Libya." From the Times:
A wide range of officials characterized the action under consideration as “limited,” perhaps lasting no more than one or two days. The attacks, which are expected to involve scores of Tomahawk cruise missiles launched from American destroyers in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, would not be focused on chemical weapons storage sites, which would risk an environmental and humanitarian catastrophe and could open up the sites to raids by militants, officials said.
The strikes would instead be aimed at military units that have carried out chemical attacks, the headquarters overseeing the effort and the rockets and artillery that have launched the attacks, according to the options being reviewed within the administration.
[Image via AP]
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