The veteran US investigative journalist Seymour Hersh has produced an excoriating exposure of the alleged Khan Sheikhoun chemical in April, which led to the US cruise missile attack on Syria’s Al-Shayrat air base.
The exposure has been published by the German publication Welt. So far it has not been published in any US or British publication. The London Review of Books paid for a copy but in the event declined to publish it. So far I have seen no allusions to it in any British newspaper.
Briefly, Seymour Hersh’s account is as follows:
(1) Russian and Syrian intelligence obtained intelligence of a meeting of high ranking Al-Qaeda officials in a building in Khan Sheikhoun. A decision was taken to bomb the building where the meeting was to take place. The Russians supplied the Syrians with a guided bomb to carry out the attack. The Russians informed the US in advance of the attack, and of the way it would be carried out with a guided bomb, in part so that the US could ensure that none of its informers within Al-Qaeda attended the meeting and was killed during the strike.
(2) The attack was carried out on the building successfully and several important Al-Qaeda leaders were killed. However unknown to the Syrians and the Russians the building housed in the basement various stores including chemicals used as disinfectants. The bomb explosion caused some of these materials to escape in a toxic cloud, enabling Al-Qaeda to pass off the attack as a chemical attack. However the bomb the Russians supplied to the Syrians had only conventional explosive.
(3) The true facts about the attack were known across the entire US intelligence community and were shared with all the top US officials in the national security and defence bureaucracy including US Defence Secretary General Mattis and CIA Director Mike Pompeo. They were also known by all the US intelligence agents operating on the ground in Syria (NB: this was also said at the time by the retired CIA agent Philip Giraldi, who said that he was told this very thing by former colleagues that CIA personnel working on the ground in Syria knew that no chemical attack had taken place).
(4) President Trump however believed the story he saw on television that a chemical attack had taken place and that President Assad had ordered it. Despite attempts by the entire national security and defence bureaucracy to explain to him what had actually happened he refused to listen and insisted that a chemical attack had taken place and that the US would launch an attack in response to it.
(5) The US attack which however followed was carefully calibrated to cause minimum damage, with the President possibly swayed by implicit resignation threats from senior US officials who would have balked had he opted for anything more severe.
(6) Hersh confirms Russian claims that the US attack – with cruise missiles targeting Syria’s Al-Shayrat air base – was only minimally successful, with 24 cruise missiles missing their targets, though he says this was because their guidance systems were thrown off course by thick smoke from fires caused by explosions of fuel tanks during the attack. He confirms that Al-Shayrat air base was back in operation within 8 hours.
Hersh’s account is clear and strong and it is in accord with much of the information which appeared at the time of the attack and shortly after. It explodes the whole story of a chemical attack on Khan Sheikhoun. It also vindicates the claims about the attack made by President Assad and the Russians. It also vindicates the criticisms of the US claims about the attack made by the US forensic expert Professor Theodore Postol. Welt moreover says that Hersh has provided it with details of all the individuals within the US intelligence community who were his sources for this story, and that they confirmed Hersh’s version of events when Welt itself contacted them.
I have no doubt that Hersh’s account of what happened during the so-called ‘chemical attack’ on Khan Sheikhoun is the truth. Everyone else can read his account here and judge for themselves.