Washington, Aug. 29 (Reuters): The US and its allies have “no smoking gun” proving Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad personally ordered his forces to use chemical weapons to attack a rebel-held Damascus neighbourhood, US national security officials said today.
In secret intelligence assessments and a still-unreleased report summarising US intelligence on the alleged gas attack on August 21, US agencies express high confidence that Syrian government forces carried out the attack, and that Assad’s government therefore bears responsibility, the officials said.
“This was not a rogue operation,” one US official said.
However, the evidence does not prove that Assad himself ordered that chemical munitions be used, according to the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Evidence that forces loyal to Assad were responsible goes beyond the circumstantial to include electronic intercepts and some tentative scientific samples from the neighbourhood which was attacked, officials said.
US Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Defence Chuck Hagel and Admiral James A. Winnefeld Jr, Vice-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, are among senior US officials who will brief senior members of the Congress about the situation in Syria and related intelligence assessments, congressional aides said.
US President Barack Obama’s national security adviser, Susan Rice, and director of National Intelligence James Clapper will also participate in the briefing. With many members of the Congress out of Washington during the summer recess, the briefing will be held in a telephone conference call, according to the aides.
They said the briefing had originally been meant to be classified, but too many members of the Congress were unable to get to secure telephone lines for it to include top secret material.
While Obama has not yet announced a decision on military action, he has left little doubt the choice was not whether but when to punish Assad’s government for the attack, in which hundreds of people died. Some Republican lawmakers and even some of Obama’s fellow Democrats have complained that they have not been properly informed.