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Mattis Says US Military Still Assessing Intelligence on Alleged Chemical Attack

Mattis Says US Military Still Assessing Intelligence on Alleged Chemical Attackā€

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis signaled Thursday that the US was prepared to wait for definitive proof that Syria carried out a chemical attack before launching an attack, but stressed the moral imperative for a USA response.

Thursday's hearing, which included Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was slated to discuss the Pentagon's 2019 budget request, but was heavily focused on Syria.

"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.

"As each day goes by - as you know, it is a non-persistent gas - so it becomes more and more hard to confirm it". On Thursday, however, he tweeted: "Never said when an attack on Syria would take place".

"On a strategic level, it's how do we keep this from escalating out of control", he said.

"We have forces in the field as you know in Syria and the use of chemical weapons in Syria is not something we should assume that, well because he didn't use them on us this time, he wouldn't use them on us next time", he said.

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".

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Mattis insisted that Trump has not yet made a decision to strike Syria, after the president earlier had tweeted that action "could be very soon or not so soon at all!" Mattis said USA troops in the country are at risk given the brutal tactics of Assad's regime.

"We're still assessing the intelligence ourselves, and our allies".

In fact, Defense Secretary James Mattis told lawmakers today that he will provide the White House with military options against the Syrian regime, but the president has not yet settled on a course of action.

One of his biggest concerns in a potential strike, however, is the death of innocent civilians, Mattis said.

In 2014, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons confirmed that Syria's chemical weaposn arsenal had been eliminated. If the regime does allow an investigation, the inspectors will not be able to determine who launched a chemical attack, he said.

Mattis also accused Russian Federation of being complicit in Syria's retention of chemical weapons, despite a 2013 deal requiring Syria to abandon them that Moscow helped broker. "We're still working on this", Mattis told reporters at the Pentagon prior to meeting with defense officials from the Netherlands. The U.S. deficit is slated to reach $1 trillion by 2020. Recently, the Russian ambassador to Lebanon has vowed that Russia will shoot down any US cruise missiles launched at Syria.



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