US says chemical weapons attack in Syria was ‘war crime’

Syria's President Bashar Assad. (SANA via Reuters)
Updated 14 April 2017

US says chemical weapons attack in Syria was ‘war crime’

WASHINGTON: The Syrian government’s suspected chemical weapons attack on civilians last week amounts to a “war crime,” the US State Department said Thursday.
It also ridiculed comments by President Bashar Assad in an interview with AFP to the effect that the alleged attack was fabricated by the United States to justify an American military strike.
“Sadly, it’s vintage Assad. It is an attempt by him to throw up false flags, create confusion,” said department spokesman Mark Toner, alluding to what Assad said in the interview Wednesday. It was Assad’s first since the alleged April 4 chemical weapons attack prompted a US cruise missile strike on a Syrian air base.
The suspected chemical attack killed at least 87 people, including many children, and images of the dead and of suffering victims provoked global outrage.
“Frankly, it’s a tactic we’ve seen on Russia’s part as well in the past,” Toner told a daily press briefing.
Echoing charges by Defense Secretary James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Toner said there can be little doubt that the chemical weapons attack in Idlib province was carried out by Syrian government forces.
“It wasn’t only a violation of the laws of war but it was a — we believe, a war crime,” Toner said.
Tillerson, visiting Moscow on Wednesday, addressed the issue of the chemical weapons attack but he stopped short of calling it a war crime.
Tillerson did raise the prospect of criminal proceedings at some point over the attack, including against Assad himself, but warned there were be major legal obstacles to this.


Hundreds of employees fired from Turkey’s Incirlik air base

Updated 25 January 2020

Hundreds of employees fired from Turkey’s Incirlik air base

  • Incirlik Air Base is located in Turkey’s Adana province, near the Syrian border, and it has been a strategic element in ties between Ankara and Washington
  • It has also played a key role for the US-led Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR) against Daesh in Syria and Iraq in the past

ANKARA: More than 420 people working at a crucial military air base in southern Turkey have lost their jobs, with some analysts considering it symbolic of decreased cooperation levels with the US and as the Pentagon reconsiders Middle East deployments.
Incirlik Air Base is located in Turkey’s Adana province, near the Syrian border, and it has been a strategic element in ties between Ankara and Washington. It has also played a key role for the US-led Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR) against Daesh in Syria and Iraq in the past, as well as hosting US nuclear warheads.
The Colorado-based company Vectrus System Corporation, which provides day-to-day maintenance and operation services at the base, terminated the contracts of almost half of its employees at the base earlier this month.
“The base surged to support OIR,” Aaron Stein, director of the Middle East program at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, told Arab News. “The Turkey-based staff for OIR has mostly left. So, the base is going back to its pre-OIR level of people, and that level requires less contractor support.”
Vectrus did not reply to Arab News’ request for comment about its decision to scale back at the base.
Joe Macaron, a resident fellow at the Arab Center in Washington, said the move was largely symbolic as the canceled contracts related to logistical support rather than the US military mission.
“But obviously, it comes against the background of some tensions in the US-Turkish relationship and previous hints by Ankara that it might reconsider the status of the Incirlik base,” he told Arab News. “The Pentagon is reconsidering its deployment across the Middle East and it might be looking to become less dependent on Incirlik without fully exiting this crucial military air base.”
Incirlik air base has been used in the past as a bargaining chip at times of tension between the two countries.
“Turkey may re-evaluate the status of the Incirlik Air Base if the US imposes sanctions,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said last month in an interview with pro-government channel A-Haber, referring to the potential fallout from Turkey’s decision to buy an air defense system from Russia. 
Washington has threatened to use its Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act to punish Ankara for buying the S-400 system.
Seth J. Frantzman, who is executive director of the Middle East Center for Reporting and Analysis, said reports of the US reducing presence at Incirlik, or challenges to the US presence there, have been growing over the last years.
“Whether these reports relate to changes or are just random is unclear and it is important to note that the large interests of the military and history tend to mean the US does not simply walk away from bases, even if it reduces its role slowly over time,” he told Arab News.
The US has invested heavily in the Jordanian Muwaffaq Salti Air Base to expand its presence there.