Mattis says: 'I believe there was a chemical attack in Syria'

Casey Dawson
April 13, 2018

When lawmakers pressed Mattis on what legal authority the United States would have to attack Syria, he said the president has the authority to protect US troops in Syria from chemical weapons attacks.

Thursday's hearing, which included Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was slated to discuss the Pentagon's 2019 budget request, but was heavily focused on Syria.

Mattis and Joint Chiefs Chairman Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford went before the House to testify on the fiscal 2019 defense budget as Capitol Hill buzzed with speculation about President Donald Trump's threats to attack Syria and possibly start a proxy war with Russian Federation. "So the recognition of that means at times you are going to see contrary impulses", Mattis told lawmakers.

"On a strategic level, [the issue is] how do we keep this from escalating out of control, if you get my drift on that", he said, likely alluding to the prospects of a confrontation between Russian and United States forces deployed in the Middle Eastern country.

Still, he said the attack was "inexcusable, beyond the pale, and in the worst interest of not just the chemical weapons convention, but civilization itself".

"We will not know from this investigating team" who was responsible, Mattis said, although he theorized that chlorine or sarin nerve agent - or a combination of the two - were used in the barrel bombing of Douma.

Donald Trump said at a Cabinet meeting that "major decisions on Syria" will come in the next 24 to 48 hours after he figures out who was responsible for the alleged attack in Douma - Russia, or Syria, or Iran, or "all of them together".

Asked in a TV interview whether France would join strikes on Syria, Macron said, "We will need to take decisions in due course, when we judge it to be most useful and effective", according to Agence France Presse.

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"We're still assessing the intelligence, ourselves and our allies", Mattis said.

The U.S. also wants to avoid causing more civilian deaths "and do everything humanly possible to avoid that", Mattis said.

Asked if the United States was ready for an attack, Mattis replied that "We stand ready to provide military options if they're appropriate, as the president determined".

Mattis was referring to worldwide investigating teams from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

Mattis also accused Russian Federation of being complicit in Syria's retention of chemical weapons, despite a 2013 deal requiring Syria to abandon them that Moscow helped broker.

Mattis said the United States has yet to confirm details of the attack through worldwide investigators. Recently, the Russian ambassador to Lebanon has vowed that Russia will shoot down any USA cruise missiles launched at Syria.

Russian lawmakers have warned the United States that Moscow would view an airstrike on Syria as a war crime and that it could trigger a direct U.S-Russian military clash.

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