Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com & Phil Stewart / Reuters & Laura Vozzella / The Independent – 2018-09-10 01:41:46
US Top General: Military Options Being
Developed Against Syria Chemical Weapons Use
Gen. Dunford says no decision made to attack Syria
Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com
(September 9, 2018) — US Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Joe Dunford has reported that he has been involved in discussions with the White House about the various military options being developed for attacking Syria if they ignore US threats to attack them for using chemical weapons.
Dunford said there is routine dialogue about the planning, and the status of the various military options being developed for Syria. The US has threatened to attack Syria on almost a daily basis, despite no public evidence that a chemical attack is going to happen.
That said, despite the constant threats, Dunford said no decision has actually been made to use force in Syria, even if this predicted attack actually does happen. Such a decision would presumably be made after the fact.
Of course, the US is threatening Syria over any number of things at any given time, and the development of more military options just means more ways President Trump can escalate after having already committed the US to “indefinite” military presence in Syria.
US Military Drawing Up Options
Should Syria Use Chemical Weapons
Phil Stewart / Reuters
NEW DELHI (September 7, 2018) — America’s top general on Saturday said he was involved in “routine dialogue” with the White House about military options should Syria ignore US warnings against using chemical weapons in an expected assault on the enclave of Idlib.
Marine General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said no decision had been made by the United States to employ military force in response to a future chemical attack in Syria.
“But we are in a dialogue, a routine dialogue, with the president to make sure he knows where we are with regard to planning in the event that chemical weapons are used,” he told a small group of reporters during a trip to India. Dunford later added: “He expects us to have military options and we have provided updates to him on the development of those military options.”
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has massed his army and allied forces on the front lines in the northwest, and Russian planes have joined his bombardment of rebels there, in a prelude to a widely expected assault despite objections from Turkey.
This week, a top US envoy said there was “lots of evidence” that chemical weapons were being prepared by Syrian government forces in Idlib.
The White House has warned that the United States and its allies would respond “swiftly and vigorously” if government forces used chemical weapons in Idlib. President Donald Trump has twice bombed Syria over its alleged use of chemical weapons, in April 2017 and April 2018.
Dunford did not say, one way or the other, what he expected Trump to do should Syria use chemical weapons again.
France’s top military official also said last week his forces were prepared to carry out strikes on Syrian targets if chemical weapons were used in Idlib.
Dunford declined to comment on US intelligence about the possible Syrian preparations of chemical agents.
“I wouldn’t comment on intelligence at all, in terms of what we have, what we don’t have,” he said.
Idlib is the insurgents’ only remaining major stronghold and a government offensive could be the last decisive battle in a war that has killed more than half a million people and forced 11 million to flee their homes.
The presidents of Turkey, Iran and Russia on Friday failed to agree on a ceasefire that would forestall an offensive.
Asked whether there was still a chance the assault on Idlib could be averted, Dunford said: “I don’t know if there’s anything that can stop it.”
“It’s certainly disappointing but perhaps not (surprising) that the Russians, the Turks and the Iranians weren’t able to come up with a solution yesterday,” he said.
Tehran and Moscow have helped Assad turn the course of the war against an array of opponents ranging from Western-backed rebels to the Islamist militants, while Turkey is a leading opposition supporter and has troops in the country. Turkey says it fears a massacre and it cannot accommodate any more refugees flooding over its border.
But Russia’s Vladimir Putin said on Friday a ceasefire would be pointless as it would not involve Islamist militant groups it deems terrorists.
Dunford has warned about the potential for a humanitarian catastrophe in Idlib and instead has recommended more narrowly tailored operations against militants there. “There’s a more effective way to do counterterrorism operations than major conventional operations in Idlib,” he said.
US Senator Claims Britain’s MI6
Is Planning a Fake Chemical Weapons Attack on Syria
Laura Vozzella / The Independent
(September 9, 2018) — Fresh off a sitdown with Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, Virginia state senator Richard Black turned up on Arab TV last week making an extraordinary claim about one of the US’ closest allies.
Mr. Black said Britain’s MI6 intelligence service was planning a chemical weapons attack on the Syrian people, which it would then blame on Mr. Assad.
“Around four weeks ago, we knew that British intelligence was working towards a chemical attack in order to blame the Syrian government, to hold Syria responsible,” Mr. Black said on Al Mayadeen, an Arab news channel based in Beirut.
Mr. Black said later that he meant the British were planning not to carry out an attack themselves, but to either direct rebels to do so or stage a phoney attack, with actors posing as victims.
Mr. Black also said some chemical attacks previously reported to have occurred in Syria were British fakes, pulled off with help from volunteer first responders known as “White Helmets”.
“From what I can tell, they have been planning a fake attack, not a genuine one, but one where they actually move people out of a town and they have trained people to portray victims of a gas attack,” Mr. Black said in an interview with The Washington Post. “And the plan is to use the White Helmets who have always been involved in these notorious deceptions, to portray an attack.”
The State Department flatly rejected Mr. Black’s allegations, which echoed what it called “outrageous” Russian and Assad-regime claims that Britain and the US have carried out chemical attacks with help from the White Helmets.
“The Syrian regime has repeatedly used chemical weapons,” a State Department official, who discussed the matter condition of anonymity because she was not authorised to do so publicly, said in an email. “Russian and regime denials have no credibility, nor does the increasingly offensive and outrageous Russian propaganda accusing the US and the UK of planning and executing CW attacks in order to justify retaliation in Syria . . . the White Helmets are a humanitarian organisation that has saved thousands of lives and continues to res
A spokeswoman for the British Embassy did not respond to a request for comment on Mr. Black’s claims, which drew condemnation from some Middle East experts.
“Wrap your head around this: an elected American official is parroting Russian-Assad Regime-Hezbollah propaganda on a TV channel closely affiliated with (if not under the direction of) a designated foreign terror org, Hezbollah,” tweeted David Daoud, a Washington-based research analyst at the think tank United Against Nuclear Iran.
Critics said Mr. Black was being used, perhaps unwittingly, as a tool for Syrian propaganda as government forces massed for an assault on Idlib province, the country’s last rebel-held stronghold. It is home to almost 3 million people, including hardened fighters who refused to surrender elsewhere. A least half of the population are civilians.
Mr. Black’s comments about Britain promised to draw more controversy to the 74-year-old legislator, who on was interviewed on Friday by state-owned Russia Today network. Five Democrats are competing to take him on next year in elections that will determine whether Republicans hold onto their two-seat majority in the Senate.
This was Mr. Black’s second trip to visit Mr. Assad, whom the Trump and Obama administrations have blamed for chemical weapons attacks that have killed hundreds of civilians in rebel-held areas during Syria’s civil war. Mr. Black, a decorated Vietnam War veteran and retired Pentagon lawyer, regards Mr. Assad as a protector of Syrian Christians and a buffer against Islamist extremism.
“I’m just an individual who is deeply concerned about achieving peace and stopping the slaughter in the Middle East,” Mr. Black said. “Americans go all over the place all the time and the only reason that they focus on me is because I tell the truth about what I’m seeing and what’s going on.”
Jake Rubenstein, spokesman for the Democratic Party of Virginia, called Mr. Black’s comments “a disturbing new low”.
“He is clearly more interested in being Bashar Al-Assad’s propaganda minister than a Virginia state senator,” he said in an email.
Some Republicans expressed concern that Mr. Black’s controversial comments could hurt his chances for re-election and threaten the GOP’s efforts to hold onto Richmond’s upper chamber.
“He’s practically handing the majority to Democrats in the state senate,” said former Republican delegate David Ramadan.
Others said Middle East politics are so complicated, voters may pay little attention. “People are never concerned about Dick Black going to Syria. People are more concerned about him coming back,” said senate minority leader Richard Saslaw.
Syrian news identified Mr. Black as an “America senator” in reports on his visit. As a state legislator, Black plays no role in setting US foreign policy. But he pushes back against the notion that the Syrian conflict does not affect Virginians, citing the US troop presence in the Middle East, including troops from Virginia.
Mr. Black, who flew from Paris to Beirut and then travelled five hours by car to Damascus, said his flight and lodging outside of Syria were covered by Dr Nasser Ani, a prominent surgeon from New Jersey who chairs the Syrian American Forum. The group has featured Mr. Black as a speaker.
Mr. Black said the Syrian government provided his lodging in Damascus, as well as an interpreter and ground transportation between Beirut and Damascus.
Virginia’s public officials cannot accept gifts worth more than $100 (Â£77) from lobbyists or government contractors. But Dr Ani and the Syrian government do not fall into either category, so Mr. Black said their gifts are allowable.
State ethics officials signed off on Mr. Black’s 2016 trip to Syria, whose $10,000 (Â£7,700) tab was paid by Tampa-area gasoline wholesaler Paul Jallo. Mr. Black said last week’s trip cost far less because it was shorter.
Mr. Black said he and Mr. Assad spent three hours in the president’s office, in a mostly upbeat discussion about how the country has fared since the senator’s last visit.
“There was sort of a spring in his step and a sense of joy and optimism, and looking out to the future and bringing the nation together,” Mr. Black said.
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