New Threats, Familiar Denials
The Defense Department indicated that what looked like preparations for a chemical attack were seen at the Al Shayrat airfield. The airbase sustained heavy damage back in April, after President Trump ordered an airstrike in retaliation for the gas attack. A second Defense Department official noted that an aircraft hangar, directly hit by one of the Tomahawk missiles, was being used for the preparations.
An additional non-government source close to the White House, confirmed to the AP that the administration had intelligence showing Syria mixing the preliminary chemicals needed to create Sarin gas. However, complicating the already tense situation, both Syria and Russia have denied the allegations, calling the White House statement a “provocation.”
Frants Klintsevich, first deputy chairman of the defense and security committee of the Russian parliament, accused the U.S. of “preparing a new attack on the positions of Syrian forces.” “Preparations for a new cynical and unprecedented provocation are underway,” he told state-owned RIA Novostia
Syrian Minister of National Reconciliation, Ali Haidar, joined Russia in denying the existence of chemical weapons, saying the warning from the White House was foretelling of a “diplomatic battle” that would be fought against Syria in the halls of the U.N. If Syria were to launch an attack, officials believe they would target areas East or South of the country, where government forces have faced setbacks recently.
Earlier this month a U.S. Air Force F-18 Super Hornet, working with the U.S.-led coalition fighting the Islamic State, shot down a Syrian SU-22 combat plane near Tabqah. The plane had been dropping bombs on the Syrian Democratic Forces, who have been recruited and trained by the U.S. to help regain control of IS held territories in the region.