Missile Strikes Are Unlikely to Stop Syria’s Chemical Attacks, Pentagon Says

WASHINGTON — A barrage of missiles in opposition to Syria by American, French and British forces more than likely won’t cease President Bashar al-Assad’s chemical weapons program, a Pentagon evaluation has concluded, regardless of President Trump’s “Mission Accomplished!” declaration hours after final weekend’s strikes.

The army intelligence report, put out lower than three days after the assault, mentioned the allied airstrikes seemingly set again Mr. Assad’s manufacturing of sarin fuel.

But it discovered that the Syrian president is anticipated to proceed researching and creating chemical weapons for potential future use, based on an American intelligence analyst who has seen the doc and described it to The New York Times on the situation of anonymity.

“They do retain a residual capability” to supply chemical weapons, Lt. Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., the Joint Staff director, mentioned on Thursday of the Syrian authorities. He mentioned the chemical weapons are “spread through the country.”

“They still have ability to conduct attacks; I would not rule that out,” General McKenzie mentioned.

Planning for the strike of 105 missiles on three targets — chemical weapons storage and analysis amenities close to Damascus and Homs — took almost a full week. Staging and ultimate preparations for the assault, which lasted roughly two minutes, took hours to hold out. Mr. Trump introduced it on Friday night time in Washington because the missiles have been hitting Syria earlier than daybreak on Saturday.

Hours later, Mr. Trump mentioned on Twitter that the allied strikes to punish Mr. Assad for a suspected chemical weapons assault on April 7 “could not have had a better result.”

Nikki R. Haley, the American ambassador to the United Nations, additionally instructed the Security Council on Saturday that the United States is “confident that we have crippled Syria’s chemical weapons program.”

Other Trump administration officers have been extra circumspect. A senior administration official instructed reporters on Saturday that the Syrian authorities nonetheless possesses sarin, chlorine and weapons in a position to carry chemical compounds that could possibly be used for future assaults. Still, the official mentioned, the strikes efficiently helped “re-establish the deterrent” by proving that Mr. Trump was prepared to take army motion.

Mr. Assad’s authorities has denied utilizing chemical weapons within the city of Douma, outdoors Damascus, the place greater than 40 folks have been killed, and blames Syrian rebels for staging the April 7 assault.

In the top, final weekend’s operation was a textbook instance of how the army can perform a precision strike, seemingly with out incident, regardless of potential issues. It is unclear if all missiles hit their supposed targets. Russian state information media mentioned on Thursday that Syria discovered two unexploded cruise missiles after the strikes and has handed them over to Russian officers.

The missiles alone value no less than $100 million in an assault that was almost twice as massive as an identical strike final yr. In that assault, missiles from two American warships focused a Syrian airfield the place officers mentioned Mr. Assad’s forces had launched warplanes that dropped sarin fuel on the rebel-held city of Khan Shaykhun, killing more than 80 people and sickening hundreds more.

American, British and French plane and ships fired cruise missiles from the Mediterranean, the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf. Dozens of refueling, reconnaissance, escort and jamming plane have been airborne. Some of them primarily targeted on monitoring and scrambling communications to stymie any Russian and Syrian counterattack, whether or not with surface-to-air missiles or warplanes, based on American army officers.

Senior United States officers weren’t certain how Russia would reply to the airstrikes, regardless of a continuously used hotline between the 2 nations to de-conflict and coordinate persevering with army operations in Syria. Last Thursday, intelligence officers from each American army regional command held a videoconference relating to the potential Russian blowback as soon as the missiles have been launched, army officers mentioned.

As the American army deliberate the strikes, the White House and the Pentagon weighed a number of totally different Syrian installations and bases that is perhaps focused.

When it got here time to assault, many of the operation was executed and overseen by the American naval base in Bahrain, the place the Fifth Fleet is predicated, and the air command heart at Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar. There, dozens of American and allied planners huddled in entrance of banks of computer systems, maps and big video screens to handle the circulate of plane and missiles taking part from the United States, Britain and France.

The variety of warplanes concerned additionally created some diplomatic sensitivity with different nations within the Middle East.

One senior American officer concerned within the strike planning mentioned Saudi Arabia and Jordan have been put within the delicate place of permitting American-led fighters and bombers to make use of sovereign air house — as long as it was not publicly marketed.

With these nations’ permission, the United States flew B-1 bombers from Qatar together with one digital warfare jet and refueling plane, Pentagon officers mentioned. The bombers seemingly launched cruise missiles from Jordanian territory. The missiles, carrying 1,000-pound warheads, are able to hitting slender targets from lots of of miles away; officers later mentioned they weren’t conscious of any civilian casualties attributable to the missiles.

Quite a lot of cruise missiles have been used within the strikes to distance allied ships, plane and one American submarine from a possible counterattack. Though a few of the fighter jets might have been inside vary of a few of the enemy’s extra superior surface-to-air missiles — upgraded up to now three years by the Russian army — their pilots, if shot down, would have been in a position to parachute into largely pleasant territory or waters closely patrolled by pleasant vessels.

The army intelligence report indicated that the Barzeh analysis and growth heart in Damascus was destroyed, based on the analyst. Most of the missiles have been aimed on the Barzeh facility, the place the Western allies believed the Assad authorities was rebuilding its chemical weapons program. It has been intently monitored for the reason that Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons discovered precursors for nerve brokers there in 2014.

The different two websites — the Him Shinshar chemical weapons bunker and storage facility in Homs — have been severely broken. But the analyst mentioned the report cited surveillance property that watched a five-ton truck go away a kind of websites, the day earlier than it was struck, with a tarp-covered load that might have included tools or chemical weapons.

Military specialists voiced skepticism that the airstrikes severely hobbled Mr. Assad’s chemical weapons program.

Claims that the assaults set it again years rely partially on what was inside Barzeh on the time of the strikes, mentioned Jeffrey Lewis, an analyst on the Center for Nonproliferation Studies on the Middlebury Institute of International Studies.

“That might be true if Barzeh was filled with difficult-to-replace equipment or if crucial personnel were killed in the strike,” he mentioned. “But what we see is just a building. Are we certain all the important bits were above ground and destroyed in the airstrike?”

In November, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons inspected Barzeh and picked up samples for testing. It concluded final month that inspectors “did not observe any activities inconsistent” with Syria’s obligations underneath the Chemical Weapons Convention.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis mentioned chlorine fuel was among the many weapons used within the April 7 suspected assault on Douma, outdoors Damascus. But he supplied little proof, nor any that the three targets contained chemical brokers banned by a 2013 settlement between Russia and the United States to eradicate Syria’s chemical weapons program.

Chlorine, which is usually utilized in industrial merchandise, was not outlawed as a part of the 2013 settlement. However, it’s described by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons as a choking agent, and is prohibited when used as a weapon; Syria is believed to have used it in a number of chemical assaults since 2013.

The group’s inspectors have sought to achieve entry to the positioning of the assault in Douma to gather proof of chemical brokers however have been pressured to show again after coming underneath gunfire this week. Russian state information media reported that the Russian army discovered a insurgent chemical lab in the identical space.

Mr. Mattis on Wednesday blamed the Syrian authorities for the holdup. And on Thursday, the State Department accused Russia of serving to Mr. Assad’s authorities “sanitize” Douma of proof of a chemical assault.

Eric Schmitt contributed reporting.

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