US doubles down on Syria policy

By Alex Torrell, @alextorrell

On the 4th April 2017, a chemical attack happened in the rebel-held Syrian town of Khan Sheikhoun. The attack resulted in the death of at least 89 people – including 33 children and 18 women- and more than 540 injured. The gas was identified in a report made by the OPCW as "Sarin or Sarin-like". A few days later, the recently elected President Trump authorised a missile attack on Shayrat Airbase, an airbase operated by the Syrian government. This action resulted in an angry response from Russia, which qualified the attack as “aggression against a sovereign state in violation of international law”.

Four months later, on June 26st, the White House accused the Syrian government of preparing a new chemical weapon attack. The statement of the Press Secretary, posted on the White House website, announced that the US government has "identified potential preparations of another chemical weapons attack by the Assad regime". The announcement describes the activities as "similar to preparations the regime made before its April 4 [...] attack".  If another attack using chemical weapons happens the regime it "will pay a heavy price", the White House warned. 

 

After the statement, the US ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, published a tweet warning that not only the Syrian government would be blamed for the attack, but also Russia and Iran would share the blame as a consequence of supporting the Assad Regime.

On Tuesday Buzz Feed News Channel published an article in which five US defence officials stated: "they did not know where the potential chemical attack would come from". The statement includes one US Central Command official who expressed its ignorance about the statement's origin. The officials said "they were unaware the White House was planning to release its statement", which usually are previously coordinated across the different national security agencies and departments. 

Furthermore, the UK’s defence secretary, Michell Fallon, declared that the UK would support any US attack on Assad as long as it was proportionate, legal and necessary, on Sky News, and published in an article by the Independent. Furthermore, Mr Fallon’s also denied the US has shared any evidence of a specific threat.

Moreover, Daryl G. Kimball, the executive director of the Arms Control Association, declared in an article in the New York Times that he had not heard of any moves made by the Syrian government toward more chemical attacks. Mr Kimball added that he did not remember any similar pre-emptive public warn against a foreign government in “at least the last 20 years”.

It appears that the different entities within the US government still lack coordination, as these statements are normally released after previously notifying relevant officials and institutions. While the Trump administration has so far had a very volatile Syria policy, shooting down government jets and Iranian drones aswell as striking government convoys, it appears they have decided to adopt a tougher stance towards the Syrian government. They are sending a strong message to Syria that goes well beyond its military cooperation with the Kurdish groups and authorities, which have recently also caused a major incident, when a US figher jet shot down a Syrian government warplane. The future effects of this statement and an official response by the Syrian or Russian government are yet to be published.