By Jeremy Herb - 08/30/13 05:31 PM EDT
More than 1,400 people — including 426 children — were killed in last week’s Syrian chemical weapons attack, according to a U.S. intelligence report released by the White House Friday.
“Our high confidence assessment is the strongest position that the U.S. Intelligence Community can take short of confirmation,” the report says.
The report is being released as part of the Obama administration’s effort to prove that Assad is responsible for last week’s chemical attack, a crucial hurdle for the administration ahead of possible military action.
Secretary of State John Kerry said Friday that its findings are “as clear as they are compelling.”
“I'm not asking you to take my word for it. Read for yourself, everyone, those listening, all of you, read for yourselves the evidence from thousands of sources, evidence that is already publicly available,” Kerry said.
The assessment, based on U.S. intelligence and open source accounts from videos and social media, says there are at least 12 locations in the Damascus area where the attacks occurred.
Some of the U.S. intelligence remains classified, the report says, and is only being shared with Congress.
United Nations inspectors are currently in Damascus finishing their own assessment of the attack.
The assessment asserts it is “highly unlikely” that opposition forces carried out the Aug. 21 attack, something that’s been claimed by the Assad regime and its allies.
It says that U.S. intelligence intercepted communications among Assad officials that confirmed the regime was behind the attack, a detail that had been previously reported.
“We intercepted communications involving a senior official intimately familiar with the offensive who confirmed that chemical weapons were used by the regime on August 21 and was concerned with the U.N. inspectors obtaining evidence,” the report says.
The Obama administration also said it had intelligence of chemical weapons preparations by the regime — including personnel with the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Center — in the three days prior to the attack.
The assessment also presents an argument for why Assad’s forces may have carried out a chemical weapons attack, a question that has been raised by those skeptical that the Syrian president ordered the strike.
“We assess that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons over the last year primarily to gain the upper hand or break a stalemate in areas where it has struggled to seize and hold strategically valuable territory,” the assessment says.
“In this regard, we continue to judge that the Syrian regime views chemical weapons as one of many tools in its arsenal, including air power and ballistic missiles, which they indiscriminately use against the opposition.”
The report says that three Damascus hospitals received 3,600 patients in the hours after the attack “displaying symptoms consistent with nerve agent exposure.”