Yesterday the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the international body tasked by the United Nations with investigating the use of chemical weapons in Syria, published its final report on the investigation. In keeping with its mandate not to assign blame, while the OPCW finds that chemical weapons have been used in Syria over the past year, the report does not attempt to reconstruct the causality of events.
The 82-page document addresses seven alleged instances of chemical weapons use this year, and finds evidence of “probable use” in five of them. All five involved organophosphorous poisoning agents, identified in four of the instances as sarin gas, which is one of the simplest chemical weapons to manufacture.
The five instances of probable chemical weapons use identified by the OPCW are briefly discussed below:
Khan al Asal, March 19. The first alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria in 2013, reported by the Assad regime to the UN in March. The OPCW described the use as small-scale and directed at soldiers and civilians. Based on OPCW interviews, the incident occurred in regime-held territory while shelling was taking place.
Saraqueb, April 29. The OPCW described the use as small-scale and directed at civilians. The delivery method was reported by an opposition activist to be an improvised munition dropped by helicopter.
Ghouta, Aug. 21. The OPCW described the use as large-scale and directed at civilians. The delivery method, after independent OPCW investigation, was reported as surface-to-surface rockets, capable of carrying a chemical payload.
Jobar, Aug. 24. The OPCW described the use as small-scale and directed at soldiers. The report indicated that, based on OPCW interviews, the chemical agent was apparently delivered by an IED thrown at regime soldiers.
Ashrafiah Sahnaya, Aug. 25. The OPCW described the use as small-scale and directed at soldiers. The report indicated that, based on OPCW interviews, the chemical agent was apparently delivered in canisters by a catapult operated by opposition forces who were launching objects at soldiers at a regime checkpoint.
OPCW report indicates targeting of regime forces
While the OPCW report acknowledges the enormous difficulties in obtaining a clear picture of the alleged incidents, it provides enough information to raise serious questions about earlier claims that only the Assad regime could have perpetrated chemical weapons attacks in Syria.
It is hard to see why regime forces would have attacked their own soldiers with chemical weapons, particularly while the UN inspectors were in Syria and in the wake of the horrifying Ghouta incident. This, along with other items in the report, suggests that rebels, including al Qaeda-linked forces, may be implicated in at least some of the attacks.
In this regard, see The Long War Journal‘s articles earlier this year raising these same questions:
Threat Matrix report, Questions about alleged gas attack in Syria
Threat Matrix report, A few more questions before we start bombing Syria
Threat Matrix report, Still more questions about the proposed US military intervention in Syria