Yesterday, the Trump administration released a statement warning Syria’s President Assad not to conduct chemical weapon attacks. The statement said:
As we have previously stated, the United States is in Syria to eliminate the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. If, however, Mr. Assad conducts another mass murder attack using chemical weapons, he and his military will pay a heavy price.
The warning was apparently prompted by increased activity at a Syrian airbase which has been used in the past for chemical weapons attacks.
Assad has previously used chemical weapons, most recently on April 4th. The attack on the city of Khan Sheikhoun in northwestern rebel-held Syria was reportedly carried out by Syrian government aircraft. The warplanes dropped bombs containing Sarin, killing over 89 people and injuring 541. Sarin is a highly dangerous nerve agent, causing death within minutes to those directly exposed; survivors suffer long-term neurological damage. It is a colorless, odorless, tasteless liquid which evaporates into a gas and therefore expands its reach.
The April 4th attack prompted the United States to conduct missile strikes against Syrian government installations. Russia, Assad’s ally, condemned the U.S. strikes and has claimed that rebels conducted the chemical weapons attacks themselves to implicate Assad.
The situation in Syria with Assad has caused a deterioration in American and Russian relations. Most recently, it has culminated in the recent shoot-down of a Syrian government warplane by U.S. forces and Russia’s corresponding threat to shoot-down U.S. warplanes in the region. Predictably, then, Russia has called this most recent American warning “unacceptable.”