Secretary of Defense James Mattis put the situation in Syria in perspective Tuesday amidst varying reports on the significance of last week’s strikes on a Syrian air base.
Mattis touched on the prospect of regime change, the actual US strikes, the attribution of Assad’s chemical weapons use, and even deployment of chemical weapons in WWII.
In response to a sarin gas attack attributed to the Syrian regime, President Donald Trump ordered a strike on the base from which the attack was launched. The administration has made several comments indicating that the U.S. may move to remove Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from power. Observers have interpreted recent U.S. actions as a sign of a larger shift in America’s policies in Syria.
Mattis cleared things up, stressing that American “military policy in Syria has not changed.” The secretary of defense told reporters that the Islamic State remains the primary objective. “Our priority remains the defeat of ISIS,” he explained, adding that the recent strike on the Syrian airfield was “a separate issue that arose in the midst of that campaign.”
“The rest of the campaign stays on track exactly as it was before Assad’s violation.” The U.S. has no plans, Mattis said, to delve into one of the worst civil wars on the planet.
Addressing numerous reports that the chemical weapons attack in Syria may have been a “false flag” operation, Mattis said there is “no doubt whatsoever” that Assad was behind the attack. “There is no doubt the Syrian regime is responsible for the decision to attack and for the attack itself,” the secretary of defense said.
“We determined that a measured military response could deter the regime from doing this again,” he remarked, adding, “The strike that we are talking about here today was directed at the people who planned it, who held onto the weapons contrary to what they had promised the United Nations when they said they had gotten rid of all those weapons, and the reason for the strike was that alone.”
“It was not a harbinger of some change in our military campaign,” Mattis told reporters.
He explained that the strikes last Thursday “demonstrates the United States will not passively stand by while Assad blithely ignores international law and employs chemical weapons he had declared destroyed.” Mattis further stated that addressing this threat is in the interests of the U.S.
Noting that he has not yet received orders for the removal of Assad, Mattis said, “The Syrian regime should think long and hard before it acts so recklessly.”
While clearing up reports on the situation in Syria, the secretary of defense took a moment to clean up White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s earlier blunder.
“We didn’t use chemical weapons in World War II,” Spicer said. “You had someone as despicable as Hitler who didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons.” He later clarified, “He was not using the gas on his own people the same way Assad used them — in the way that Assad used them where he went into a town and dropped them down on innocent civilians.”
“Even in World War II, chemical weapons were not used on battlefields. Even in the Korean War, they were not used on battlefields,” Mattis said during Tuesday’s press conference.
Mattis’ statements helped to clear up some of the hype surrounding the administration’s actions in Syria.
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