The Trump administration issued a rare, preemptive warning to the Syrian regime against launching any chemical weapons attacks, warning Damascus will “pay a heavy price” if it refuses to heed Washington’s red line.
The warning, sent via a White House statement posted late Monday night, cited recent intelligence showing government forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad were preparing to launch a chemical attack.
According to the statement, “the United States has identified potential preparations for another chemical weapons attack … similar to preparations the regime made before its April 4, 2017, chemical weapons attack.”
White House officials declined to provide specifics on the intelligence showing a chemical attack by the Russia-backed Syrian regime was imminent, nor what a U.S. response would entail.
However, whatever response administration officials were preparing would be requisite to holding Syrian forces responsible for “another mass murder attack using chemical weapons,” administration officials said Monday night.
U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley raised the specter of a wider war, threatening Syria’s allies in Moscow and Tehran.
“Any further attacks done to the people of Syria will be blamed on Assad, but also on Russia & Iran who support him killing his own people,” she said on Twitter.
In April, President Trump ordered the bombardment of al-Shayrat air base in western Syria, which U.S. military and intelligence officials said was the source of a chemical attack by the Assad regime against anti-government forces near Idlib province that month.
The 59 Tomahawk missiles delivered by the Arleigh Burke-class destroyers into al Shayrat was “a one-off strike” in response to the Idlib attack, in which munitions armed with sarin nerve gas were dropped on rebel targets, ending in over 80 dead, including 11 children, officials from U.S. Central Command said at the time.
The American strikes were the first time U.S. forces directly engaged Syrian government targets since beginning operations in the country two years ago.