The Corner

Syrian Opposition Denied Gas Masks by Obama Administration

The Obama administration ignored or refused repeated requests from Syrian opposition groups for gas masks, Josh Rogin reports in the Daily Beast:

Following the harrowing attack that left more than 1,300 dead and more than 3,000 injured in East Ghouta and other Damascus suburbs, the Obama administration is contemplating a strike on the regime of Bashar al-Assad. But Syrian civilians are still trying to cope with the tragedy and treat the wounded, who include scores of children caught sleeping when the gas was dispersed. The attack zone has a fatal shortage of gas masks, chemical-weapons protection gear, and the nerve agent antidote atropine; civilians and activists have been forced to resort to crafting makeshift masks out of everyday household items.

More chemical-weapons attacks could come, and there is now an urgent demand in rebel-held areas for gas masks and other gear. But there is also anger and frustration among opposition leaders that despite more than a year of requests to the U.S. government, the Obama administration did not send any gas masks or chemical-weapons protection gear to opposition-controlled areas.

“Almost three months ago, we received intelligence information that the regime forces may use chemical weapons in Homs,” said Abo Saleem, the directing commission secretary of the Council of Homs Province and a member of the political bureau of the Revolutionary Council of Homs, in an interview with The Daily Beast. “I forward the information to the State Department telling them we are afraid of the use of chemical weapons by the regime and we need gas masks and some training to prepare for such an attack. I got no response. Two weeks after that, the regime used chemical weapons in the old city of Homs, as we were expecting. We sent the State Department reports, but nothing happened.”

In a June email to several administration officials, viewed by The Daily Beast, Saleem begged the U.S. to provide gas masks in advance of further chemical-weapons attacks and warned that without them, the civil war in Syria would only result in more casualties.

The issue was not “one of availability,” according to a senior administration official:

One former Obama-administration official said the national-security staff reviewed a list of nonlethal humanitarian and medical aid that the U.S. could provide to opposition groups more than a year ago and ruled out providing gas masks, though thousands sit in Defense Department warehouses all over the region, left over from the war in Iraq.

“There are a lot of gas-mask kits in excess supply. It was not an issue of availability,” the former official said. “In the early days of the Syria conflict, even the smallest amount of aid to the Free Syrian Army was viewed with great concern. It was a lack of foresight by administration bureaucrats. Unfortunately, now we’re seeing the consequences.” 

A senior Obama administration official confirmed to The Daily Beast on Wednesday that the White House did review the issue last year and determined it wouldn’t provide any gas masks or other chemical-weapons protective gear to the Syria opposition because of fears the equipment could get into the wrong hands.

The rest is here.

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