Haley, Mattis credit White House statement with stopping Syria chemical attack

Haley, Mattis credit White House statement with stopping Syria chemical attack
© Greg Nash

U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley on Wednesday credited the White House’s statement on Syria with stopping a chemical weapons attack.

“I can tell you that due the president’s actions, we did not see an incident,” Haley said at a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing. “What we did see before was all of the same activity we had seen prior, for the April 4 chemical weapons attacks. And so I think that by the president calling out Assad, I think by us continuing to remind Iran and Russia that while they choose to back Assad, that this was something we were not going to put up with.

“So I would like to think that the president saved many innocent men, women and children.”

Monday night, the White House issued a statement accusing Syrian President Bashar Assad's military of preparing for another chemical weapons attack.

“As we have previously stated, the United States is in Syria to eliminate the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. If, however, Mr. Assad conducts another mass murder attack using chemical weapons, he and his military will pay a heavy price,” White House press secretary Sean Spicer said in the statement.

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The Pentagon backed up the statement Tuesday, saying that the United States has seen “active preparations" at the same base used to launch a sarin gas attack against civilians in April.

On Wednesday, Defense Secretary James Mattis echoed Haley, telling reporters traveling with him in Europe that it appears Assad heeded the warning.

"It appears that they took the warning seriously," Mattis said, according to the Pentagon's transcript. "They didn't do it."

Still, asked whether Assad had called off any such strike completely, Mattis said, “I think you better ask Assad about that."

In response to the April attack, the U.S. struck the Syrian airfield with 59 cruise missiles, the first time the U.S. military directly targeted the Assad regime.

The White House’s initial statement Monday raised eyebrows as it was issued without context or evidence. Several reports Monday night also said military officials were caught off guard, though White House and Pentagon officials have pushed back on those reports.

Coupled with several recent confrontations between pro-government forces and U.S. forces fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the statement also stirred fears in some that the United States is getting more involved in the Syrian civil war without a larger strategy.

At Wednesday’s hearing, Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), an Iraq War veteran who has been critical of Trump’s foreign policy, thanked the administration for “putting an amazing red line down.” 

“As you said earlier, I think that save countless lives,” Kinzinger told Haley. “I think there are a lot of children that now hopefully can realize their dream of being a police officer or a teacher because of that really strong line.”

Updated at 2:24 p.m.