James Mattis: ‘No Doubt’ Assad Regime Executed Chemical Attack

Russia denies Syrian government was behind the chemical weapons attack despite mounting evidence

Defense Secretary James Mattis and General Joseph Votel, commander, US Central Command
Defense Secretary James Mattis and General Joseph Votel, commander, US Central Command / Getty Images

Defense Secretary James Mattis made clear Tuesday that the Trump administration has "no doubt" the Bashar al-Assad regime launched last week's chemical attack in Syria that killed more than 80 civilians, including children.

"I have personally reviewed the intelligence and there is no doubt the Syrian regime is responsible for the decision to attack and for the attack itself," Mattis told reporters during a Pentagon briefing.

Mattis rejected reports claiming the United States had determined that Russia knew of the Syrian chemical attack in advance. He said the administration has conclusively assessed that the Assad regime planned, orchestrated, and executed the attack, but noted that U.S. officials "don't know anything beyond that."

Russian President Vladimir Putin again denied Tuesday morning that the Syrian government was behind the chemical weapons attack despite mounting evidence showing otherwise.

A U.S. Navy warship launched 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at Syria's Sharyat Airbase on April 7 after the Trump administration determined the site served as the launch pad for the Assad regime to conduct a chemical attack against civilians.

Mattis said in a statement released Monday that the U.S. attack had taken out 20 percent of Syria's warplanes.

He condemned Assad's repeated use of chemical weapons over the past several years and said the regime had exceeded a "limit" of aggression that no longer permitted the United States to stand by passively.

"I trust he regrets it now considering the damage that has been done to his air force," he said.

Mattis delivered his remarks alongside Army Gen. Joseph Votel, the chief of Central Command. Both generals said the strike did not represent a shift in U.S. policy or strategy in Syria, but was instead a one-off action intended to deter Assad from deploying chemical weapons again.

"The purpose of this attack was singular," Mattis said, stressing that the war to decimate the Islamic State remained the United States's top priority in Syria.

Votel would not comment on potential Pentagon plans to increase the number of U.S. troops deployed to the country. Trump's military strategy in the region has been opaque due to the president's assertion that publicizing concrete steps would tip off the enemy.