US struck Syria without certainty on nerve agent

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Washington, April 18 (IANS) US President Donald Trump’s administration carried out a retaliatory strike on Syria last week even though intelligence agencies did not have absolute certainty that the Assad regime had used the nerve agent sarin against civilians, a media report said.

The decision to proceed with the strikes on the night of April 13 met a standard of evidence needed that officials felt they could accept, intelligence and defence sources told CNN on Tuesday.

Administration officials were adamant that whatever was used by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces to attack civilians in Douma on April 7 was a chemical agent and that alone justified taking action.

The lack of complete information played a role in deciding not to strike a larger set of targets including airfields, aircraft and helicopters, a defence official told CNN.

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Other factors, like Russian positioning, also played a role in the decisions.

On Tuesday afternoon, Secretary of Defence James Mattis and Joint Chiefs Chair Joseph Dunford held a classified briefing for senators on the Syria strike that was launched in coordination with France and the UK.

Before the briefing, officials would not comment on whether the intelligence had become more certain post-strike.

Witnesses reported seeing at least one helicopter overhead at the time of the Syrian attack that had taken off from an airfield.

But at the time, intelligence officials did not have a full picture of the event, which would have included intercepts of conversations and verified paths that helicopters flew, the sources told CNN.

Prior to the US strike, full confirmation could not be made of whether Syria had used sarin in its attack.

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“It’s a hard, long process, especially in an attack like this without physical access to victims, site. Therefore we had to work with closest allies quickly to ensure we had confidence in the intelligence picture, enabling policymakers to choose best course of action,” an intelligence official told CNN.

The Trump administration determined a “standard of evidence had been met”, the official added.



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