U.S. Representative Mike Rogers said it is “probable” that the regime of Syria’s Bashar al-Assad has used chemical weapons in that country’s civil war.
“When you look at the whole body of information” that “over the last two years there is mounting evidence that it is probable that the Assad regime has used at least a small quantity of chemical weapons,” Rogers, a Michigan Republican and chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said today on CBS’s “Face the Nation” program.
Syrian government claims of a rebel chemical attack, and opposition counterclaims that regime forces resorted to chemical warfare in three instances since December, have sparked concern over the safekeeping of chemical weapons in a two-year civil war that has killed more than 70,000 people. Syria holds the region’s largest stockpile.
The United Nations said March 21 that it will investigate the Assad government’s claims that opposition forces killed 25 people in Aleppo province by launching a rocket laden with chemicals on March 19. The opposition said Assad’s troops used a toxic weapon.
While rebel fighters, including groups affiliated with a al-Qaeda in Iraq, have pushed Assad’s army from territory in the north of the country, they have failed to create a united political and military structure two years after anti-Assad protests began.
“This is a growing destabilizing event in the Middle East,” Rogers said. “The fact that they have, I think, put chemical weapons in a position to use, and I believe have intent and at some course during the last two years have used some quantity of chemical weapons, this needs to be a game changer.”
The U.S. needs to reengage with the opposition “so we can vet them, train them, equip them so that they can be an effective fighting force,” Rogers said.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry urged Iraq’s Shiite-dominated government today to stop Iranian aircraft from using Iraqi airspace to ship arms and fighters to Syria’s military. Shiite Muslim-ruled Iran supports Assad, whose Alawite sect is affiliated with Shiite Islam.
Syria and Israel exchanged gunfire this weekend in the Golan Heights, which Israel captured from Syria in the 1967 Middle East war. Syria’s neighbors, including Israel and Turkey, fear the possibility that terrorist groups will get hold of Syria’s chemical weapons.
President Barack Obama last week promised an extra $200 million in aid to help Syria’s neighbor Jordan cope with the flood of refugees from Syria that King Abdullah II says is straining his country’s economy as well as posing a risk to regional stability. Jordan has absorbed 460,000 refugees fleeing the Syrian civil war and that number may double by the end of the year, according to Abdullah.