Syrian Government Ups Chemical Weapons Use Against Civilians in 2018, IHS Markit Says

United States’ messaging indicates an increasing likelihood of further airstrikes to degrade the Syrian government’s military capabilities

LONDON--()--There has been an increase in the number of incidents of the Syrian government allegedly using chemical agents against opposition-held areas in Q1 2018 compared with Q4 2017, according to a new report released today from Conflict Monitor by business information provider IHS Markit (Nasdaq: INFO).

“Further US military action against the Syrian government would probably involve cruise missile strikes against facilities suspected of being used to produce chemical agents, and delivery systems, including airbases and missile silos”

Chemical agents, predominantly chlorine, were reportedly used against the Syrian opposition on at least 15 occasions between 1 January and 26 February 2018, compared to just 10 recorded incidents in the entire fourth quarter of 2017.

There is no evidence so far of the attacks conducted so far in 2018 involving the use of a banned chemical warfare agent, such as sarin.

US ‘red line’ on chemical weapons

The US has stated that its ‘red line’ is the use of agents banned under the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), which include sarin, but not chlorine due to its dual commercial use.

IHS Markit assesses that the US ‘red line’ has already been crossed, and that further US military action is not contingent on another incident of sarin use.

The US launched 59 cruise missiles against Al Shayrat Airbase on 6 April 2017, in response to the government’s suspected use of sarin against the town of Khan Sheikhoun, which killed 80 people, days earlier.

“Further US military action against the Syrian government would probably involve cruise missile strikes against facilities suspected of being used to produce chemical agents, and delivery systems, including airbases and missile silos,” said Columb Strack, principal Middle East analyst at IHS Markit. “The precision of US missiles, and location of Syrian military sites, means there is a low risk of collateral damage to civilians or commercial property.”

“Within the context of US efforts to curb Iranian expansion, and a high and growing risk of war between Israel and Iran’s proxy Hizbullah, which is likely to extend to southern Syria, a US strike to degrade Syria’s remaining chemical weapons capability is likely to also include dual-use targets, such as Iranian missile storage sites, that could be used against Israel in a future war,” Strack said.

Syrian government under increasing scrutiny

There have been increasing signals in recent weeks to suggest that a case for action is being built against the Syrian government for its use of chemical agents.

“The US probably calculates that weakening President Assad’s military capabilities while Turkey secures the opposition-held areas in northern Syria would force him to abandon his stated aim of achieving all-out military victory, and enter into meaningful negotiations,” Strack said.

In January, Switzerland’s Journal of Forensic Toxicology published the first unclassified report providing “unambiguous evidence” that the banned chemical warfare agent sarin was used in Syria. The analysis carried out by the Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research and the German Federal Army’s Institute for Pharmacology and Toxicology, was based on samples taken from a woman killed in Saraqib on 29 April 2013 after Syrian government helicopters dropped barrel bombs on the town.

In February, a leaked United Nations report alleged that North Korea had provided the Syrian government with supplies used in producing chemical weapons during 2016 and 2017. US National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster stated at the Munich Security Conference on 17 February that the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons was clearly continuing and that “it is time for all nations to hold the Syrian regime and its sponsors accountable for their actions.”

About IHS Markit (

IHS Markit (Nasdaq: INFO) is a world leader in critical information, analytics and solutions for the major industries and markets that drive economies worldwide. The company delivers next-generation information, analytics and solutions to customers in business, finance and government, improving their operational efficiency and providing deep insights that lead to well-informed, confident decisions. IHS Markit has more than 50,000 business and government customers, including 80 percent of the Fortune Global 500 and the world’s leading financial institutions. Headquartered in London, IHS Markit is committed to sustainable, profitable growth.

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About Conflict Monitor

Conflict Monitor by IHS Markit is an open-source intelligence collection and analysis service, which delivers critical data-driven insight into the conflicts in Iraq and Syria, geospatial tools, and in-depth analysis by leading security experts.

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