Syrian dictator Bashar Assad has used chemical weapons in his country’s civil war more than 300 times over just the past five years, with the vast majority coming since President Obama declared in 2013 that chemical attacks constituted a “red line” that could not be crossed, a new report claims.
The report from The Global Public Policy Institute, a leading European think tank based in Berlin, examined nearly 500 claims of chemical weapons attacks dating back to 2012. The organization said it was able to “credibly” confirm 336 of those attacks, with the first on Dec. 23, 2012, and the latest in April 2018.
The comprehensive study makes the case that Mr. Assad, for the most part, has gone unpunished for his use of chemical weapons.
“The Syrian regime’s persistent and widespread use of chemical weapons is best understood as part of its overall war strategy of collective punishment of populations in opposition-held areas,” the study reads in part. “We show that the Assad regime did not merely ‘get away’ with its use of these banned weapons, but succeeded in using them for strategic ends.”
“More than two-thirds of Syria’s population are internally or externally displaced, and opposition-held communities have been buckling and surrendering under the cumulative weight — and eventually the mere threat — of violence, including the use of chemical weapons,” the report says, arguing that Mr. Assad is on the verge of crushing his foes largely due to the use of chemical weapons.
There have been no confirmed uses of chemical weapons since President Trump ordered retaliatory airstrikes against the Assad regime in April 2018, the study says, suggesting the U.S. military action had a real impact on the Syrian leader’s strategy.
But the Obama administration had far less success. Mr. Obama in August 2013 declared that Syria’s use of chemical weapons was a “red line” that would lead to a military response from the U.S.
Instead, the administration struck a deal that centered on Russia overseeing the supposed dismantling and destruction of Mr. Assad’s chemical weapons capability.
That process appears to have been little more than a sham, as chemical weapons have remained strewn across Syria for years afterward.
The Assad regime was responsible for the vast majority of attacks, though the weapons in a few instances apparently fell into the hands of the Islamic State.
“Our research found that there have been at least 336 chemical weapons attacks over the course of the Syrian civil war — significantly more than has commonly been known,” the report says. “Around 98 percent of these attacks can be attributed to the Assad regime, with the Islamic State group responsible for the rest. Approximately 90 percent of all confirmed attacks occurred after the infamous ‘red line’ incident of August 2013.”
Mr. Trump late last year ordered a U.S. withdrawal from Syria, where about 2,000 American forces had been stationed to battle the Islamic State.