White House: Agencies were not cut out of Syria statement

The White House is pushing back against reports that military and diplomatic officials were caught off guard by its Monday night warning about a possible Syrian chemical weapons attack. 

“We want to clarify that all relevant agencies — including State, DoD, CIA and ODNI — were involved in the process from the beginning,” an unnamed White House official said Tuesday of the unusual Monday night statement. “Anonymous leaks to the contrary are false.”

The New York Times and BuzzFeed reported that the statement took several military officials by surprise. 

{mosads}One U.S. Central Command official who spoke anonymously told BuzzFeed he or she had “no idea” how it came to be and several others said they were unaware the White House was planning to release it, suggesting a communications breakdown between the West Wing and national security agencies. 

“It appears policy advisers at State were not briefed on WH Syria statement,” an Associated Press reporter tweeted Monday night. “Spoke to one senior official tonight who heard the news from me.”

It’s unclear what exactly prompted the White House to publish the statement, but it’s possible that President Trump and his advisers were trying to deter Syrian President Bashar Assad from launching another chemical attack. 

The statement said preparations by Assad’s forces appeared similar to ones it made in advance of a chemical attack in April that killed dozens of civilians, including children. That prompted a Trump to launch a cruise missile strike on the base from where the attack was believed to have been launched. 

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

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