Secretary of Defense James Mattis told lawmakers in the US Thursday that the Pentagon does not have any evidence that chlorine or sarin were used in the Syrian city of Douma.
Mattis went on to say that the majority of the claims were coming from mainstream media reports and social media posts – in other words, the rising tensions between nuclear superpowers over an alleged chemical attack in Syria, inching closer towards World War 3, has been all based on ZERO evidence, only fake media reports.
“There have been a number of these attacks. In many cases, you know we don’t have troops, we’re not engaged on the ground there, so I cannot tell you that we had evidence, even though we had a lot of media and social media indicators that either chlorine or sarin were used,” Mattis said, speaking to members of the House Armed Services Committee on Thursday.
The defense secretary said that he did believe that a chemical attack did take place, but that the US was still “looking for the actual evidence.”
“We’re still assessing the intelligence, ourselves and our allies. We’re still working on this,” he reiterated.
Warning that he was concerned that a US strike might lead to an “out of control” escalation in the Syrian war, Mattis said that Washington was “committed to ending that war through the Geneva process through the UN orchestrated effort.”
“On a strategic level, [the issue is] how do we keep this from escalating out of control, if you get my drift on that,” he said, likely alluding to the prospects of a confrontation between Russian and US forces deployed in the Middle Eastern country.
Mattis promised to keep Congressional leaders informed if the Pentagon did decide to strike in Syria. Asked if the US was ready for an attack, Mattis replied that “We stand ready to provide military options if they’re appropriate, as the president determined.”
Emphasizing that the use of chemical weapons was “simply inexcusable,” the defense secretary also accused Moscow of complicity in Syria’s alleged retention of a chemical weapons stockpile.
Syrian opposition media reports last week of an attack by government forces involving chemical weapons prompted the US and its allies to blame Damascus and begin preparations for a possible military response. The Syrian government denied responsibility. The Russian Center for Reconciliation sent inspectors to Douma, finding no trace of chemical weapons use. Moscow has called for an independent investigation into the matter.
Syria destroyed its chemical weapons stockpile in 2013 in a deal brokered by Russia and the United States in exchange for the latter’s agreement not to attack the Middle Eastern country. In 2014, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons confirmed that Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal had been eliminated.
Townhall.com elaborates on the complexity of the information coming out of Syria:
For the moment, Western governments attributing blame for the chemical attack on Assad’s government are, based on mainstream reports from outlets like the BBC, relying almost entirely on Islamist rebel groups and the activists and NGOs that operate within their territory for information [emphasis mine]:
Syrian opposition activists, rescue workers and medics say more than 40 people were killed on Saturday in a suspected chemical attack on Douma, the last rebel-held town in the Eastern Ghouta region.
They allege that bombs filled with toxic chemicals were dropped by Syrian government forces. The government says the attack was fabricated.
In March, troops split the region into three pockets – the largest of which was around Douma, home to between 80,000 and 150,000 people. Facing defeat, rebel groups in the other two pockets agreed to be evacuated to northern Syria.
But the group controlling Douma, Jaysh al-Islam, continued to hold out.
Activists from the Violations Documentation Center (VDC), which records alleged violations of international law in Syria, reported two separate incidents of bombs believed to contain toxic substances being dropped by the Syrian Air Force.
At 19:45, more than 500 patients – most of them women and children – were brought to medical facilities with symptoms indicative of exposure to a chemical agent, according to the Syria Civil Defence and the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS), a relief organisation that supports hospitals.
The Union of Medical Care and Relief Organizations (UOSSM), which supports hospitals in rebel-held Syria, also said it received reports of two incidents [of chemical attacks].
Jaysh al-Islam (JAI, “Army of Islam”), the group that controls the area alleged to have been attacked by Assad, is an Islamist group that has acted as a rival of both ISIS and the al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Nusra Front, according to Middle East Eye [emphasis mine]:
JAI formed after a merger involving around 60 groups, including Liwa al-Islam, and is itself one of the main components of the Islamic Front – a group of Gulf-backed fighting groups – and are thought to be second only to Ahrar al-Sham in terms of power and numbers.
The Islamic Front issued a charter in 2013 (prior to Jaish al-Islam’s joining) that laid its principles for the creation of an Islamic-rooted society in which Islam would be the “religion of the state, and it is the principal and only source of legislation.”
“O mujihideen brothers! We will leave these fields in which we finished our course and preparation and we will continue with preparing to wage jihad,” says the group’s leader, Zahran Alloush, speaking to the recruits from a podium.
“Today the world is conspiring against us. And we have no one but Allah, an excellent protector and helper is he!”
In the past, President Trump was much more skeptical of the idea that the United States should support Islamist rebels and believe their claims without question:
We should stay the hell out of Syria, the "rebels" are just as bad as the current regime. WHAT WILL WE GET FOR OUR LIVES AND $ BILLIONS?ZERO
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 16, 2013
Remember, all these ‘freedom fighters’ in Syria want to fly planes into our buildings.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 28, 2013
Many of the Syrian rebels are radical jihadi Islamists who are murdering Christians. Why would we ever fight with them?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 6, 2013
That skepticism sure appears to be gone now.