Washington: Following its investigation, backed by similar reports from its allies including Britain and France, the United States has said that the Assad regime in Syria has used chemical weapons on a small scale resulting in death of between 100 to 150 people.
"Following a deliberative review, our intelligence community assesses that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons, including the nerve agent sarin, on a small scale against the opposition multiple times in the last year. Our intelligence community has high confidence in that assessment given multiple, independent streams of information," Ben Rhodes, the Deputy National Security Advisor to the US President, said on Thursday.
"The intelligence community estimates that 100 to 150 people have died from detected chemical weapons attacks in Syria to date; however, casualty data is likely incomplete," he said.
Rhodes said while the lethality of these attacks make up only a small portion of the catastrophic loss of life in Syria, which now stands at more than 90,000 deaths, the use of chemical weapons violates international norms and crosses clear red lines that have existed within the international community for decades.
"We believe that the Assad regime maintains control of these weapons. We have no reliable, corroborated reporting to indicate that the opposition in Syria has acquired or used chemical weapons," he said, adding that the United States would be consulting the international partners and members of the Congress in this regard.
The US President, Barack Obama, he said, has been clear that the use of chemical weapons – or the transfer of chemical weapons to terrorist groups – is a red line for the United States, as there has long been an established norm within the international community against the use of chemical weapons.
"Our intelligence community now has a high confidence assessment that chemical weapons have been used on a small scale by the Assad regime in Syria. The President has said that the use of chemical weapons would change his calculus, and it has," Rhodes said.
Following on the credible evidence that the regime has used chemical weapons against the Syrian people, Obama has augmented the provision of non-lethal assistance to the civilian opposition, and also authorised the expansion of its assistance to the Supreme Military Council (SMC), and will be consulting with Congress on these matters in the coming weeks.
"This effort is aimed at strengthening the effectiveness of the SMC, and helping to coordinate the provision of assistance by the United States and other partners and allies.
"Put simply, the Assad regime should know that its actions have led us to increase the scope and scale of assistance that we provide to the opposition, including direct support to the SMC. These efforts will increase going forward," he said.
Noting that the US and the international community have a number of other legal, financial, diplomatic, and military responses available, Rhodes said the US is prepared for all contingencies, and will make decisions on its own timeline.
Rhodes said the body of information used to make this intelligence assessment includes reporting regarding Syrian officials planning and executing regime chemical weapons attacks; reporting that includes descriptions of the time, location, and means of attack; and descriptions of physiological symptoms that are consistent with exposure to a chemical weapons agent.
"The assessment is further supported by laboratory analysis of physiological samples obtained from a number of individuals, which revealed exposure to sarin. Each positive result indicates that an individual was exposed to sarin, but it does not tell us how or where the individuals were exposed or who was responsible for the dissemination," he said.