According a new Associated Press report a White House official says the US thinks it is "extremely unlikely" Turkey used chemical weapons against Kurds. The comments came late on Saturday following widespread reports which emerged earlier in the day that Turkish forces launched a chemical gas attack on Kurdish militias in the northern Syria village of Aranda on Friday, sending at least six civilians to the hospital.
In response, counter-terrorism expert Max Abrams appropriately quipped concerning the White House's hasty excusal of US ally Turkey as a culprit: sounds scientific, right?
Sounds scientific https://t.co/R9iOkZ9IBa— Max Abrahms (@MaxAbrahms) February 17, 2018
Investigative criteria is as follows: Turkey’s a NATO ally https://t.co/sbW1VD7E8I— Max Blumenthal (@MaxBlumenthal) February 18, 2018
Clearly, if a long-time US partner in Syria and NATO ally is to blame for a heinous chemical attack it couldn't possibly be true according to the White House version of events. Yet, imagine if this were Assad or Russia being blamed...
As we described previously, multiple local and regional sources including medical personnel operating inside Afrin alleged the attack took place during Turkey's ongoing 'Operation Olive Branch' - which has involved both Turkish soldiers and local jihadist proxies including the Free Syrian Army conducting joint ground attacks against Kurdish YPG forces (Kurdish "People's Protection Units"). Syrian state-run SANA news agency and the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) - an opposition monitoring group - also quoted local doctors in their reports.
And as Reuters reported, "the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told Reuters that Turkish forces and their Syrian insurgent allies hit the village on Friday with shells. The Britain-based monitor said medical sources in Afrin reported that six people in the attack suffered breathing difficulties and dilated pupils, indicating a suspected gas attack." But predictably, Turkish officials slammed the reports, saying that Turkey has "never used" chemical weapons in Syria, describing this week's accusations that either its military or allied forces had done so as "baseless" and according to one official, "black propaganda".
The AP described the specific delivery method of the alleged gas attack as follows:
SANA on Saturday said Turkey fired several shells containing “toxic substances” on a village in Afrin on Friday night, causing six civilians to suffer suffocation symptoms.
However, more interesting is the White House's "extremely unlikely" comment when questioned about the incident. The AP summarizes the exchange as follows:
A White House official says the United States thinks it is "extremely unlikely" Turkey used chemical weapons against the Kurds.
The official says that they are aware of the reports, but cannot confirm them and called for the protection of civilians.
It should be immediately clear for anyone paying attention to Syria chemical attack allegations going to back to 2013 that the United States has been quick to blame the Syrian government for any and all claimed gas attacks based on the mere words of anti-Assad militant and pro-opposition media groups.
Both Obama and Trump administrations have admitted at various times to relying heavily on opposition produced "open source material" and "social media reports" including unverifiable YouTube videos to accuse Syrian President Bashar al-Assad of launching massive chemical attacks on civilians. Last April, for example, the White House conducted a massive Tomahawk missile strike on Shayrat air base near Homs in response to opposition media reports of a Sarin gas attack on al-Qaeda held (HTS) Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib.
And what was touted as a 4-page "intelligence report" released by the White House cited "open source" videos to make the case that the Syrian government was behind the chemical attack. As investigative journalist Robert Parry observed at the time, "All the Important People who appeared on the TV shows or who were quoted in the mainstream media trusted the images provided by Al Qaeda–related propagandists and ignored documented prior cases in which the Syrian rebels staged chemical weapons incidents to implicate the Assad government."
In the case of Friday's purported chemical attack on the Syrian Kurdish village of Aranda by Turkish forces, there is also plenty of available open source material, including Kurdish media videos and photographs of civilians receiving treatment for a possible gas attack in a local hospital.
While none of this is to suggest that at this point we know exactly what happened at Aranda, the episode does provide yet further confirmation of one increasingly self-evident truth: all chemical attack claims out of Syria are simply fodder for manipulation by the White House and media pundits to serve Washington's geopolitical ends.
The standard Washington logic is as follows: should NATO ally Turkey or US-backed rebels commit chemical attacks or other atrocities, these will be immediately dismissed as "extremely unlikely" - in the White House's own words; while at the same time any American friendly group on the ground such as anti-Assad insurgents will be taken at their word and on the flimsiest of evidence should claims be made that Assad is using gas - no matter how much evidence stacks up against such claims.
And what might Turkish President Erdogan be thinking right now? With not even the pretense of any kind of investigation or UN assembly meeting or diplomatic action called for by the White House, but instead an immediate brushing aside of the allegations as "extremely unlikely" - Erdogan has now been given a blank check to carry out atrocities against Syrian Kurds using any means at his disposal.