The Syrian regime likely continues to produce and use chemical weapons, senior U.S. officials told reporters Thursday.
The officials said that Russia, Syria’s key military backer in the conflict, bore some of the blame for failing enforce a 2013 disarmament deal.
Under the deal, brokered by Washington and Moscow, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was to stop using chemical weapons and surrender his arsenal by 2014.
Instead, the regime continues to deploy them on civilian areas, and is likely manufacturing new types of chemical weaponry.
The officials said the regime had adapted how it uses its chemical arsenal, launching attacks from the ground – as opposed to aerial attacks – as these are harder to detect.
President Donald Trump is reportedly considering military action to deter further attacks by Damascus, but has yet to make a firm promise to that end.
“The president showed last April he’s willing to look at all the options . . . and using military force is something he’ll still consider doing,” said one official, referring to a strike on a Syrian air base launched in response to last year’s sarin attack.
Instead, the officials said they were hopeful increased sanctions and diplomatic pressure would rein in the regime – or Syria’s unchecked use of chemical weapons could be emulated by actors in other parts of the world.
Although there has been no major chemical attack since sarin killed 87 people in Khan Sheikhoun last April, officials warned of repeated attacks on civilian areas, involving both chlorine, which has non-military applications, and sarin, a more sophisticated and deadly chemical weapon.
“They think they can get away with it if they keep it under a certain level,” an official said.
The newspaper was told the regime is relying on chemical weapons to make up for a shortfall in military manpower after nearly seven years of conflict. “They don’t have the manpower to be strong everywhere at once,” an official said.
The chemicals also acted as an effective “instrument of terror” to instil fear in civilian populations in rebel-held areas.
Syria has repeatedly denied carrying out any chemical attacks, despite international reports finding otherwise. Russia, one of the regime’s chief backers, has denied any knowledge of Syria’s chemical weapons use.
Cover image: A poison hazard danger sign is seen in the town of Khan Shaykun, Idlib province, Syria on April 05, 2017. On Tuesday more than 100 civilians had been killed and 500 others, mostly children, injured in Assad Regime's suspected chlorine gas attack carried out by warplanes in the town of Khan Shaykun, Idlib province. (Ogun Duru/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)