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13 April 2018, 01:39 | Damon Campbell
US still assessing data on alleged chemical attack in Syria, defense chief says
US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Thursday the use of chemical weapons in Syria is "simply inexcusable", after a suspected poison gas attack that left more than 40 people dead.
Earlier Thursday, Trump softened his rhetoric.
"I believe there was a chemical attack and we are looking for the actual evidence", Mattis told a hearing of the House Armed Services Committee, warning one of his top concerns about any USA military strike was preventing an "out-of-control" escalation in that country's war, in which Russia, Iran, Turkey and others have taken sides.
"They can only say that they found evidence or did not, and as each day goes by - as you know, it's a non-persistent gas, so it becomes more and more hard to confirm it", Mattis said. The Center's representatives visited the place of the alleged attack and questioned local doctors, who said that they had not received individuals with symptoms of any chemical poisoning.
"We are trying to stop the murder of innocent people, how do we keep this from escalating out of control", he told Tsongas.
Still, he said the attack was "inexcusable, beyond the pale, and in the worst interest of not just the chemical weapons convention, but civilization itself".
The United States last April launched 59 cruise missiles at a Syrian airfield in response to a similar chemical attack by the government that killed dozens of civilians.
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The president also seemed to suggest that a decision about military action has not been made, telling reporters Thursday morning, "We're having a meeting today on Syria and we're having a number of meetings today, we'll see happens", said Mr. Trump, adding, "We're looking very, very seriously, very closely at that situation and we'll see happens folks, we'll see what happens, it's too bad the world puts us in a position like that". "That's where we're at right now", Mattis told the committee. "Our strategy is to engage by, with and through allies in all things we do".
"This is a complex area, I'll be the first to admit it", Mattis said.
Mattis was referring to worldwide investigating teams from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).
Mattis said the United States has yet to confirm details of the attack through worldwide investigators.
"We have forces in the field and the use of chemical weapons in Syria is not something that we should assume that 'well, because he didn't use them on us this time, he wouldn't use them on us next time, '" Mattis told Rep. John Garamendi, D-Calif. About 2,000 USA military personnel are in Syria. "We're still working on this", referring to France and the United Kingdom.
"Mattis will not want a strike if it doesn't combine with an overall strategy toward Syria, which this administration does not have", James Jeffrey, who was ambassador to Iraq at the time that Mattis was head of U.S. Central Command, told Politico.
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