WASHINGTON, D.C. — Defense Secretary Jim “Mad Dog” Mattis warned the Syrian government on Tuesday that it will pay a “very, very stiff price” for future chemical attacks.
Speaking during a joint press conference with Army Gen. Joseph Votel at the Pentagon, Mattis said there is “no doubt” that the Syrian president Bashar al-Assad was behind last week’s gas attack that killed dozens of Syrian civilians.
“Last Tuesday, on the 4th of April, the Syrian regime attacked its own people using chemical weapons,” Mattis said. “I have personally reviewed the intelligence and there is no doubt the Syrian regime is responsible for the decision to attack and for the attack itself.
“In response to the attack, our government began a deliberate process led by the National Security Council to recommend diplomatic and military options to the president,” Mattis said. “We met over several days and I spoke with some of our allies. The National Security Council considered the near century-old international prohibition against the use of chemical weapons.”
Referencing the air attack upon a Syrian airbase last week at the order of president Trump, Mattis said the United States is prepared to take whatever action is necessary to ensure that such atrocities do not occur again.
“The Syrian regime’s repeated violation of that international law and inexplicably ruthless murders the regime had committed, we determined that a measured military response could best deter the regime from doing this again,” he said.
“This military action demonstrates that the United States will not passively stand by while Assad blithely ignores international law and employs chemical weapons he had declared destroyed,” said Mattis. “The Syrian regime should think long and hard before it again acts so recklessly in violation of international law against the use of chemical weapons.”
When asked about Russian president Vladimir Putin’s angry response over the airstrike, said the United States was deliberate in their maneuver and “took appropriate actions to ensure no Russians were injured in the attack.” When pressed by a reporter who asked more specifically what, if any, involvement Russia may have had in helping it’s ally in planning the chemical assault, Mattis was evasive.
“We have gone back through and looked at all the evidence we can and it’s very clear who planned this attack, who authorized this attack and who conducted this attack itself.” he said. “The Assad regime planned it, orchestrated it and executed it. And beyond that, we can’t say right now. We know what I just told you. We don’t know anything beyond that.”
Mattis said that, despite Russia’s insistence that there is no proof that Assad ordered the chemical strike upon his own people, the strike ordered by Trump was necessary to “stop the cycle of violence into an area”.
“Even in World War II chemical weapons were not used on battlefields. Even in the Korean War, they were not used on battlefields,” he said.
How much advanced knowledge Russia had of the chemical attack in Syria remains a subject of debate. On Monday, the Associated Press quoted a senior U.S. official who asserted that Russia knew of the chemical attack before it occurred (http://bigstory.ap.org/article/19772be1238e49fbb62c509a5b659b3d/official-us-military-takes-extra-precautions-syria). However, during a daily press briefing from the White House, press secretary Sean Spicer said there is no evidence to back up the official’s claim.