- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 6, 2017

Syria produced a “ridiculously huge amount” of deadly sarin gas, says an internal Defense Department memo written amid the Obama administration’s effort to remove and destroy all the country’s chemical weapons.

That stockpile, which Obama aides declared was reduced to zero by summer 2014, is back in the news.

President Trump on Wednesday accused Syrian President Bashar Assad of once again committing mass murder against his own people by unleashing sarin gas on a town in Idlib province, killing dozens of innocents.

His words raise the question, where did the sarin come from? An intelligence official said, that at this point, the U.S. does not know.

“Our incompetence did not get all of Assad’s chemical weapons,” said James Dolbow, a former Republican Senate defense aide.

It was Mr. Assad’s brutal use of sarin in August 2013 that prompted President Barack Obama to plan airstrikes on a wide number of Syrian military targets. The raids were averted when Russian President Vladimir Putin, an Assad protector, intervened and proposed that Syrian voluntarily give up its chemical weapons.

Mr. Obama accepted the deal.

The Pentagon’s Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) led the U.S. effort to remove components and destroy them at sea aboard the container ship Cape Ray. Then-Secretary of State John Kerry announced that all chemical weapons and components had been removed.

That claim is now being questioned in light of the Idlib attack, raising questions about wether Syria hid stockpiles from United Nations inspectors.

The Pentagon memo was turned over by DTRA to The Washington Times last month in response to a Freedom of Information (FOIA) request.

The memos are an email thread in which defense officials are discussing the amount of destruction completed by the Cap Ray. The estimate given was 600 metric tons of Syrian chemicals, most of which, 580 metric tons, was “sarin precursor DF,” or methylphosphonic difluoride. DF is mixed with other components to activate a binary bomb.

“The short answer is that Syria could have used that DF to make a RIDICULOUSLY HUGE amount of sarin,” one defense officials wrote on Aug. 15, 2014.

The 600 metric tons, including 20 tons of mustard gas, were destroyed over 42 days using shipboard hydrolysis facility.

“The truth is that ‘we’ can’t be sure what actually happened at the site of the attack,” said James Russell, a professor at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif. “It seems likely, however, that Assad did not honor the commitments to give up all Syria’s chemical weapons in the deal brokered by Russia. Like Saddam before him, Assad might have thought it important to have these weapons to use on his internal opponents when the situation warranted.”

The Times FOIA request asked for the foreign sources of Syria’s chemical weapons, one of the largest arsenals in the world. The documents turned over by DTRA did not include that information.

Iran, which moved militias, weapons and its commanders into Syrian to fight for the Assad regime, is suspected of aiding Mr. Assad’s chemical weapons development in the past.

By September 2015, Mr. Putin was deploying troops and fighter-bombers into Syria and began indiscriminately bombing civilian and rebel targets, according to American commanders who listed hospitals and schools as destroyed by the Russians.

• Rowan Scarborough can be reached at rscarborough@washingtontimes.com.

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