CBRN Assessment

US warns of Assad’s evolving CW munitions

02 February 2018
A man crouches next to munitions purportedly recovered in the wake of a suspected chlorine attack on Duma, east of Damascus city, on 22 January. While their fins and warheads are rusty, suggesting they were stored for some time, one was made using a 107 mm rocket motor manufactured in 2016. If they did contain chlorine, they appear to have been designed to release their payload using a valve rather than a small explosion. Source: Hasan Mohamed/AFP/Getty Images

Forces loyal to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad are developing new munitions to deliver chemical weapons, US officials told journalists on 1 February.

The officials said Assad’s forces had continued to make occasional and relatively small-scale use of chemical weapons since the 4 April 2017 sarin attack on Khan Shaykhun that prompted the United States to bomb Al-Shayrat Air Base. Recent attacks had involved both sarin and chlorine, they said.

"They clearly think they can get away with this if they keep it under a certain level,” the Washington Post quoted one official as saying.

Syria denies that it has used chemical weapons, saying its stockpiles and manufacturing capabilities were destroyed after it signed the Chemical Weapons Convention in 2013 as part of a Russian-brokered deal.

However, there are still discrepancies in its declaration to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and the Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) has identified the Syrian military as the perpetrator of several attacks, including the one on Khan Shaykhun.

The US officials said information gathered after recent attacks indicated that Damascus had retained a chemical weapons production capability. While there was no evidence that it had developed new agents, it appeared to have “evolved” its delivery systems and tactics, possibly to make it harder to identify the perpetrators.

This evolution includes using ground-launched munitions rather than aircraft, making it less obvious that the Syrian military is responsible.

Russia has defended Damascus from the allegations, partly by arguing that the Syrian military has no need to use such weapons when it is winning the war. The US officials said the Syrian military was using chemical weapons to compensate for its manpower shortage and terrorise people in opposition-held areas.

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