Syria retains limited capability for chemical attack: Pentagon

Photo showing Defense Secretary James Mattis at the US Department of Defense in Arlington, Virginia, Apr 2018. (Reuters)
Updated 19 April 2018
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Syria retains limited capability for chemical attack: Pentagon

  • No signs Assad regime is preparing new chemical attacks
  • Syria and Russia deny unleashing poison gas on April 7 during their offensive on Douma

WASHINGTON: The US State Deparmtment said on Thursday that Assad regime troops and their Russian ally have been cleaning up the site of chemical attack in Douma.  Earlier the Pentagon said on Thursday that while there were no signs the Syrian government was preparing to launch a chemical weapons attack, President Bashar Assad still retained the ability to launch limited attacks.
Reuters reported on Wednesday that US assessments following US, British and French joint missile strikes on Syria last weekend show they had only a limited impact on Assad’s ability to carry out chemical weapons attacks.
“They do retain a residual capability. It is probably spread throughout the country at a variety of sites,” said Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, joint staff director.
“They will have the ability to conduct limited attacks in the future, I would not rule that out,” McKenzie said during a Pentagon briefing.
The United States, France and Britain destroyed three targets tied to Syria’s weapons program. The most important of them was the Barzah Research and Development Center, which US intelligence concluded was involved in the production and testing of chemical and biological warfare technology.
Syria and Russia deny unleashing poison gas on April 7 during their offensive on Douma, which ended with the recapture of the town that had been the last rebel stronghold near the capital, Damascus. The suspected chemical attack triggered the US response.
McKenzie said that the “absolute preponderance of the evidence” pointed to chemical weapons being present at the sites that were struck, including elements of sarin, particularly at the Barzah site.
He added that while the United States could not know with certainty, there was no evidence that any chemicals had escaped into the air after the strike.


Nearly a year since fall of Iraq’s Mosul, hunt for bodies goes on

Updated 23 min 48 sec ago
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Nearly a year since fall of Iraq’s Mosul, hunt for bodies goes on

  • “The operations will continue until all the corpses are extracted” from the heart of the city
  • The rubble makes it impossible to bring in heavy construction machinery

MOSUL: Atop an enormous mound of rubble under blistering sun in Iraq’s second city Mosul, fire crews and police chip away at a grim but vital task.
Some 10 months after dislodging the Daesh group, they are still extracting bodies from the ruins of the shattered Old City.
“Over three days, 763 bodies have been pulled from the rubble and buried,” Lt. Col. Rabie Ibrahim says.
Despite the overpowering stench, the men work relentlessly, braving unexploded munitions in an area devastated by the nine-month battle.
“The operations will continue until all the corpses are extracted” from the heart of the city, Ibrahim says.
Civilians’ bodies that can be identified are handed to their families, while the remains of Daesh combatants are buried in a mass grave on the western outskirts of Mosul.
Some of the putrefied corpses are sent to Nineveh province’s health services, Ibrahim adds.
The workers, their faces covered with masks or scarves, move with great caution.
The bodies of jihadists are sometimes still clad in suicide belts.
Grenades, homemade bombs and other crude contraptions left by Daesh fighters during their retreat to Syria pose a constant threat.
The improvised boobytraps are hidden under multiple layers and obstacles — the rubble of collapsed homes, disemboweled furniture and uprooted trees, in some places subsiding into the waters of the Tigris that meander murkily below.
Where a maze of cobbled streets was once lined with homes and market stalls, there is now a formless mess populated by stray animals, insects and disease.
The destruction is so great that some residents cannot pinpoint the remnants of their homes or even their street as they try to direct salvage workers to the remains of loved ones.
The rubble makes it impossible to bring in heavy construction machinery, says General Hossam Khalil, who leads Nineveh province’s civil defense force.
His men therefore have to rely on smaller vehicles, but Mosul “only has a few,” he says.
There is a pressure to work as quickly as conditions will allow: residents are exhausted by three years of Daesh rule, nine months of brutal urban combat and now the slow pace of reconstruction.
“But it’s impossible, with this stench, this pollution and the epidemics they can cause,” says Othmane Saad, an unemployed 40-year-old whose home in the old city is entirely destroyed.
Another resident, 33-year-old Abu Adel, wants the authorities “to clear all the corpses as quickly as possible” and to “compensate residents so they can rebuild, then establish public services.”
But the task is titanic.
Since Mosul was retaken in July, “2,838 bodies, including 600 Daesh members, have been retrieved from the rubble,” governor Naufel Sultane says.
Even after the corpses are taken away and buried, they leave harmful bacteria which the Tigris can carry far beyond the old city.
The authorities insist drinking water stations are unaffected and that they pump water from the Tigris’ central depths, avoiding the banks and other shallows.
But gastroenterologist Ahmed Ibrahim advises caution.
“You must boil water before drinking it and don’t use river water, either for bathing or washing,” he says.
Birds and fish “can carry typhus, bilharzia and gastroenteritis,” he adds.