Daily Beast: Obama Administration Refused to Send Gas Masks to Syrian Opposition, Despite Abundant Supply

August 29th, 2013 7:05 PM

"The Obama administration has refused to send gas masks and other chemical-weapons protection gear to Syrian opposition groups, despite numerous requests dating back more than a year and until the reported chemical-weapons attack that struck the Damascus suburbs August 21," Josh Rogin of The Daily Beast reported earlier today. What's more, it wasn't for lack of supply, as there are numerous gas masks lying about in the region in storage, surplus from the late Iraq War, Rogin reported.

It's completely understandable and arguably advisable to not ship weapons to Syrian opposition groups for fear of weapons falling into the wrong hands, but refusing life-saving gas masks when the Syrian government is known to have chemical weapons caches is quite another. It remains to be seen how much the Big Three networks and newspaper outlets pick up on this thread, but we'll be watching. Below is a critical excerpt from his post (emphasis mine):

“Almost three months ago, we received intelligence information that the regime forces may use chemical weapons in Homs,” said Abo Saleem, the directing commission secretary of the Council of Homs Province and a member of the political bureau of the Revolutionary Council of Homs, in an interview with The Daily Beast. “I forward the information to the State Department telling them we are afraid of the use of chemical weapons by the regime and we need gas masks and some training to prepare for such an attack. I got no response. Two weeks after that, the regime used chemical weapons in the old city of Homs, as we were expecting. We sent the State Department reports, but nothing happened.”

In a June email to several administration officials, viewed by The Daily Beast, Saleem begged the U.S. to provide gas masks in advance of further chemical-weapons attacks and warned that without them, the civil war in Syria would only result in more casualties.

“The repeated use of chemical weapons by the Assad army is preventing achieving any balance on the ground, and as such, it is one of the factors that is preventing reaching a fair political solution,” Saleem wrote. “The international community’s quick intervention and with all possible methods to prevent Assad from using chemical weapons against his people is an ethical and legal duty. This is not possible until there is will by the international community, and therefore, there should be no more delays in providing means of preventing its effects.”

Other activists on the ground in Syria told The Daily Beast that their requests to the Obama administration for gas masks date back more than a year and have been ignored or rejected at every turn.

One former Obama-administration official said the national-security staff reviewed a list of nonlethal humanitarian and medical aid that the U.S. could provide to opposition groups more than a year ago and ruled out providing gas masks, though thousands sit in Defense Department warehouses all over the region, left over from the war in Iraq.

“There are a lot of gas-mask kits in excess supply. It was not an issue of availability,” the former official said. “In the early days of the Syria conflict, even the smallest amount of aid to the Free Syrian Army was viewed with great concern. It was a lack of foresight by administration bureaucrats. Unfortunately, now we’re seeing the consequences.”