U.S. defense chiefs say they want to deter more chemical attacks, not oust Assad

The Guardian reports: The US defense chiefs have said that Washington’s objectives in Syria are limited to deterring additional chemical weapons attacks by Bashar al-Assad.

After days of contradictory messages from the Trump administration, the US defense secretary, James Mattis, used his first Pentagon press conference on Tuesday to clarify that the US seeks no wider military involvement in a conflict he defined as extraordinarily complex.

Seated aside army Gen Joseph Votel, the US military commander for the Middle East, Mattis repeatedly brushed aside suggestions of ousting Assad, a diplomatic objective that secretary of state Rex Tillerson intends to raise in Moscow on the first visit by a senior US official since Donald Trump took office. He is due to meet his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, but it is not clear whether an expected session with Vladimir Putin would go ahead.

Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Putin compared the US intervention in Syria to the ill-fated Iraq invasion of 2003. He claimed to know “from different sources” that the US had been duped into carrying out a missile strike by rebels intent on dragging Washington into the conflict. He predicted there would be more poison gas attacks to come, which he said would be false flag operations by rebels in order to justify more US missile strikes.

“Similar provocations – and I can’t call it anything other than that – are being prepared in other parts of Syria,” Putin said.

Russia has claimed that the deaths of more than 80 people by poison gas in the town of Khan Sheikhun on 4 April, were caused by a Syrian regime strike on a chemical weapons facility run by terrorists but has provided no evidence. The Guardian visited Khan Sheikhun after the attack and saw no evidence of any such facility having been bombed. [Continue reading…]

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