WASHINGTON—The Pentagon said Tuesday the United States has seen signs that Syria is preparing to use chemical weapons from the same air base used in previous attacks, setting the stage for another showdown with President Bashar al-Assad.
Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, said the U.S. has seen “actions suggestive of intent to use chemical weapons” at the Shayrat Airbase, the site where the U.S. hit with 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles after the April chemical weapons attack.
The U.S. has been tracking developments at the air base, which is also used by Russian forces, for several days and have gathered enough intelligence to make the case that the Syrian regime is preparing to use chemical weapons again “more compelling”, Mr. Davis said.
The Pentagon released the information hours after President Donald Trump issued a stern warning on Monday to the Syrian government, saying any use of chemical weapons would see Assad and his military pay a “heavy price”.
In April, Mr. Trump approved a strike on one of the Syrian regime’s airbase after Mr. Assad used chemical weapons that killed dozens of Syrian civilians in Idlib Province, saying the chemical weapons attack crossed “many, many lines”.
Mr. Trump cited the images of dead and dying children suffocating as the sobering reason for carrying out the strike on the air base, while also scorning former President Barack Obama for failing to act on a 2013 chemical weapons attack by the Syrian regime. Mr. Assad has denied responsibility for the chemical weapons attack.
The U.S. military, which is primarily focused on battling Islamic State in Syria, has been increasingly drawn into confrontation with the Syrian regime and its allies backed by Iran, with key U.S. partner Israel feeling increasingly threatened by a hostile Iran.
Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, has denounced as a “dangerous escalation” the White House allegations that Syria is preparing a new chemical weapons attack.
The Kremlin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, condemned “such threats to the legitimate leadership of the Syrian Arab Republic unacceptable.”, branding it “unacceptable” as they stand firmly behind Mr. Assad.