Syrian President Bashar Assad has given approval for the use of chlorine gas in the country’s last remaining rebel holdout in Idlib province, U.S. officials told The Wall Street Journal on Sunday.
If Assad deploys the chemical against the approximately 70,000 remaining opposition fighters in Idlib, President Trump has privately threatened to deploy a massive attack against him, people familiar with the exchange told the Journal.
The Washington Post reported Friday that the president had approved a new strategy in Syria that would station 2,000 U.S. soldiers there indefinitely.
Officials told the Journal that the president has not settled on the precise trigger for military action or if the U.S. response would target Syria’s Russian and Iranian allies.
The president also issued harsh warnings last Wednesday, saying, “If it’s a slaughter, the world is going to get very, very angry, and the United States is going to get very angry too.”
On Friday, the U.S. also conducted military exercises along with coalition forces in Syria fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
However, it’s not guaranteed the U.S. will respond with force, the Journal reports.
“We haven’t said that the U.S. would use the military in response to an offensive,” one senior administration official told the newspaper.
“We have political tools at our disposal, we have economic tools at our disposal,” the official said. “There are a number of different ways we could respond if Assad were to take that reckless, dangerous step.”
The White House already employed some economic measures last week, sanctioning four individuals and five companies aligned with Assad.
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff similarly indicated Saturday that the Pentagon has crafted military options for the president regarding Syria, but that the administration has not conclusively decided to engage militarily.
Though military options are on the table, the Journal reports that U.S. officials have been attempting to keep an offensive from becoming necessary for weeks. U.S. officials told the Journal that national security adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have requested that their Russian counterparts keep Assad from employing chemical weapons in Idlib.
So far, there have been few signs that U.S. efforts have deterred Assad and his allies.
Russia and Syria both launched airstrikes Saturday against Idlib and parts of the Hama province, killing almost two dozen civilians, the Journal reports. The coalition has also pummeled three hospitals since Friday, leaving thousands of Syrians without medical care.
BY MEGAN KELLER – 09/10/18