Syrian CW Use – Why? There’s a good reason | Charles Duelfer

Syrian CW Use – Why? There’s a good reason

Many have wondered why Syrian would continue to use chemical munitions recognizing that the international community would condemn such actions. After all, they received some measure of positive recognition when acceded to the Chemical Weapons Convention in 2013 and allowed the OPCW inspectors to supervise the removal/destruction of their (large) declared CW capacity. They did a good job though it is now apparent that Syria retained a limited capacity in contravention of their treaty obligations. So why incur all the wrath of the international community just to use some limited chlorine (possibly also sarin) barrel bombs? After all, (and the Russians) have been bombing extensively with conventional weapons to great effect.

They answer may be the extensive tunnels that Jaesh al-Islam seems to have had in Douma. Clearing insurgents out of tunnels is not an easy military task. A uniquely effective tool could be Chlorine gas. Conventional bombing will drive insurgents (and civilians) into basements and bunkers. Chlorine is a perfect response to that. It is heavier than air and sinks to lower levels. Using chlorine will flush insurgents out of their tunnels and remove their last bastion of protection. It was shortly after Basher al-Assad used chlorine that the last insurgents agreed to evacuate Douma.

And now the presence of insurgent tunnels is beginning to become know.

Chlorine and barrel bombs seem to have been the perfect weapon for this military problem.

Sadly, I doubt Bashir al-Assad will be deterred from using this potent weapon in similar circumstances in the future. The airstrike of last Friday night may have sent a message, but it was mixed. It seems we launched over one hundred cruise missiles, some very advanced and NO ONE WAS HURT! That seems a peculiar measure of merit.   Possibly there was some damage to buildings that may have been associated with chemical weapons fabrication, but the fear of upsetting the Russians constrained targeting to the point where on the order of a quarter billion dollars of our most sophisticated munitions are expended with the caution that no one should be hurt. Bashir al-Assad’s uses weapons with exactly opposite purpose.


The Russian certainly are protected the regime—sort of a variation of Saddam’s use of civilians as human shields.


Following last years strike, the White House put out a detailed compilation of the essential data that supported their assessment about Syrian CW use. This time they have not yet. The French have issued a fairly detailed paper. More could be done.


Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov, an expert in dealing with UN inspectors, will continue to offer alternative explanations and arguments. He will challenge UN inspectors and assert that they have not proved their case. Lavrov, did this with great panache when I was deputy Chairman of the UN Iraq weapons inspection team called UNSCOM (Lavrov was the Russian ambassador to the UN). He would have to think that little green men could have dropped chemical agent from flying saucers, or, if you found that unlikely, then the weapons inspectors themselves were at fault. But certainly there are many other explanations for the data presented by west. Washington needs to counter this in a more compelling manner.






















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