Wed, Apr 12, 2017 - Page 7 News List

Russia knew Syrian attack coming: US

‘COMPLICIT’:A Russian drone was flying over the hospital after the attack and a Russian plane bombed the hospital in a cover-up attempt, a senior US official said

AP, WASHINGTON

The US has made a preliminary conclusion that Russia knew in advance of Syria’s chemical weapons attack last week, but has no proof of Moscow’s involvement, a senior US official said.

The official on Monday said that a drone operated by Russians was flying over a hospital as victims of the attack were rushing to get treatment.

Hours after the drone left, a Russian-made fighter jet bombed the hospital in what US officials believe was an attempt to cover up the usage of chemical weapons.

The US official said the presence of the surveillance drone over the hospital could not have been a coincidence, and that Russia must have known the chemical weapons attack was coming and that victims were seeking treatment

The official, who was not authorized to speak publicly on intelligence matters and demanded anonymity, did not give precise timing for when the drone was in the area, where more than 80 people were killed.

The official also did not provide details for the military and intelligence information that form the basis of what the Pentagon now believes.

Another US official cautioned that Washington has not made any final determination that Russia knew ahead of time that chemical weapons would be used. That official was not authorized to speak about internal administration deliberations and spoke on condition of anonymity.

The allegation of Russian foreknowledge is grave, even by the standards of the currently dismal US-Russian relations.

Although Russia has steadfastly supported Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government and they have coordinated military attacks together, Washington has never previously accused Moscow of complicity in any attack that involved the gassing of innocent civilians, including children.

The former Cold War foes even worked together in 2013 to remove and destroy more than 1,300 tonnes of Syrian chemical weapons and agents.

Until Monday, US officials had said they were not sure whether Russia or Syria operated the drone. The official said the US is now convinced Russia controlled the drone.

The official said it still is not clear who was flying the jet that bombed the hospital, because the Syrians also fly Russian-made aircraft.

US officials have previously said that Russians routinely work with Syrians at the Shayrat air base, where the attack is supposed to have originated.

US officials said the chemical weapons were stored there and that those elements add to the conclusion that Russia was complicit in the attack.

On Thursday, 59 Tomahawk missiles were fired on the government-controlled base in the US’ first direct military action against al-Assad’s forces.

The US has been focusing its military action in Syria on defeating the Islamic State group.

US military spokesman Colonel John Thomas on Monday said the US has taken extra defensive precautions in Syria in case of possible retaliation against US forces for the cruise missile attack.

Thomas told reporters at the Pentagon that the increased emphasis on defensive measures to protect US troops on the ground in Syria led to a slight and temporary decline in offensive US airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria.

There has been no Syrian retaliation so far for the US attack, which destroyed or rendered inoperable more than 20 Syrian air force planes, he said.

Thomas said the US intends to return to full offensive air operations against the Islamic State group as soon as possible.

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