Mattis: No additional Syria chemical weapons activity seen
BRUSSELS — The U.S. has seen no additional activity to indicate a chemical attack is imminent in Syria since the White House threatened President Bashar Assad with retaliation if any further steps were taken, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Wednesday.
“It appears they took the warning seriously,” Mattis told reporters traveling with him to a NATO defense ministerial in Brussels.
Late Monday the White House issued a warning to Assad that “he and his military (would) pay a heavy price” after aerial surveillance of Shayrat airfield — the same base that the regime used to launch a deadly chemical attack on civilians in Idlib in April — revealed “active preparations” for another chemical attack.
Mattis would not say exactly what the U.S. saw that gave it concern or confirm whether the only activity they saw was at the Shayrat base.
Syria has denied using banned weapons in the past and that any such preparations were now taking place. In 2013 and 2014, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which had identified about 1,300 ton of sarin and chemicals used to produce it, removed those stockpiles from Syria.
“I think that Assad’s chemical program goes far beyond one air base,” Mattis said, declining to give specifics.
On April 4, the Syrian regime aircraft dropped what is suspected to be sarin gas on civilians in Idlib, killing scores of women and children. Several days later the U.S. responded by firing 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles from the Mediterranean Sea-based destroyers USS Porter and USS Ross. The missiles hit aircraft, fuel facilities and storage facilities.