USA ready to hit Syrian chemical weapons

Barrel bombs used earlier in the war to disperse chemicals indiscriminately, for example, have been replaced by ground-launched munitions, the officials said, according to AP.

The U.S. has no evidence to confirm reports from aid groups and others that the Syrian government has used the deadly chemical sarin on its citizens, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Friday.

Mattis told reporters that chlorine gas was known to have been weaponised in attacks in Syria, but added: "We are even more concerned about the possibility of sarin use". "What I am saying is that other groups on the ground - NGOs, fighters on the ground - have said that sarin has been used, so we are looking for evidence".

A United Nations report from September determined that Assad's forces had used chemical weapons dozens of times during the civil war, including a deadly toxic gas attack on the town of Khan Shaykhun in April, which killed at least 80 civilians.

"They know what we know", one of the officials said. "We reserve the right to use military force to prevent or deter the use of weapons of mass destruction".

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But there have been repeated reports of smaller chemical attacks on civilian areas.

An agreement between the U.S. in Russian Federation in 2013 bound Moscow to remove all chemical weapons from Syria, but as repeated instances of chemical weapons attacks show, that was simply not the case.

The Syrian government was accused previous year of using sarin gas against its own citizens - an attack that drew a USA retaliatory response of 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles into the air field the chemical assault was launched from.

"We think that they did not carry out what they said they would do back when in the previous administration when they were caught using it".

The chemical of choice has most often been industrial chlorine, which is easy to produce and legal to possess, rather than sarin, which is banned by the Chemical Weapons Convention.

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The official warned that Syria's chemical weapons could soon spread to other parts of the world, possible even the USA, unless the worldwide community steps up its pressure on Syria's leader Bashar al-Assad.

The officials said the administration was prepared to take military action to deter the use of such weapons in Syria's near seven-year civil war.

Eastern Ghouta is the last remaining rebel stronghold near the capital, Damascus, and has been under a government siege since 2013.

Nauert's comments follow a suspected chlorine gas attack in the rebel-held territory of Eastern Ghouta, on the outskirts of Damascus, on Thursday.

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  • Ryan Wade