French Intel Agencies Detail Further Syrian Chemical Capabilities

United Nations arms experts look at a map as they speak with an opposition fighter as they inspect the site where rockets had fallen in Damascus' eastern Ghouta suburb on August 28, 2013, during an investigation into a suspected chemical weapons strike. AFP PHOTO /MOHAMED ABDULLAH/ SHAAM NEWS NETWORK

On Sept 2, the French government released the executive summary of its declassified intelligence report on Syrian chemical weapons capabilities, and the five-page document adds some intriguing new evidence that the French claim shows the Assad regime continues to explore new ways in which to use its chemical stockpiles against civilian targets.

The French intelligence agencies say that in addition to Sarin and VX gas, they have obtained evidence that Syria has “also worked on nitrogen mustard…as well as compounds with toxicity level higher than sarin.”

While the American case rests primarily on the August 21 attack on a Damascus suburb that US officials claim killed over 1,000 people, the French have obtained a mix of samples ranging from blood, urine, soil, and munitions debris that “confirmed the use of sarin” in Saraqeb on Apri 29 and Jobar in mid-April 2013.

The Saraqeb attack featured a helicopter flying high over the town which dropped “small munitions spreading white smoke,” sickening approximately 20 civilians. The Jobar attack affected about 40 people.

“These confirmed use of sarin by Syrian forces have demonstrated that the Bachar El Assad regime is adapting its tactics and the munitions in its stockpiles to a terror use against civilian population,” the report said, adding that “our intelligence services also have information, from national sources, leading [them] to think that other such actions might again be undertaken.”

The French government also takes pains to spell out the size and shape of Syria’s capacity to deliver chemical munitions, which would potentially allow the Assad regime to fire missiles armed with chemical weapons up to 500km.

The regime has thousands of these delivery systems in its arsenal, including Scud C missiles with a range of 500km; Scud B missiles with a 300km range; M600 missiles that can carry toxic agents up to 300km; along with SS21 missiles and artillery shells that can deliver chemical agents about 50 to 70km.

“Activities monitored for several years on Syrian test sites indicate that new dispersal mechanisms are being studied. Since the beginning of the conflict, our intelligence confirmsthe use by the regime of ammunitions carrying a lesser volume of chemical agents, adapted to a tactical use, more focused and local.”

After a contentious hearing on Sept. 3 in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, Secretary of State John Kerry and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Martin Dempsey offered the Senate Armed Services Committee a closed hearing on Wednesday morning, followed by testimony in front of the House Foreign Relations Committee.

On Wednesday afternoon, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is scheduled to mark up the bill that the White House sent to the Hill on Aug. 31 that would allow US military strikes on Syria.

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Paul McLeary

McLeary covers national security policies at the White House, Pentagon, the Hill, and State Department.
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