By Alexandra Banfi
As we approach what may well be the final chapter of the Syrian Civil War, we have witnessed a multidimensional, brutal battle that has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives already. Following failure to unify, the rebel groups are weakening in the face of Assad’s military strategies and risk losing Idlib – their final stronghold.
The Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, is assumed to have utilised chemical weapons to wage civil war and it is speculated that it is this use of chemical weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) that has brought him nearer and nearer to victory. How widespread has Assad’s chemical weapons strategy been, and what role has it played in his regime’s advancement in the conflict?
The use of chemical weapons as a military strategy by the Syrian government allegedly began in December 2012, when seven people were said to have been killed in the city of Homs. The United States consul general in Istanbul informed the US government of convincing evidence that the Bashar al-Assad regime had orchestrated the chemical attack, leading to speculation that the Syrian government have been utilising WMDs.
Following the suspected chemical weapons attacks in Damascus and Aleppo in March 2013, a joint UN and Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons investigative team was dispatched to Syria to establish if rumours surrounding the use of chemical WMDs were true. A continuous stream of chemical weapons use allegations combined with President Assad’s suspicious obstruction of such investigations has suggested that Syria are guilty of engaging in chemical warfare.
Following such conclusions the US threatened military action, however a more diplomatic route suggested by Russia offered Assad the option to agree to disarmament and accession to the Chemical Weapons Convention. Despite Assad’s agreement to these concessions in September 2013, it has become clear that his regime has perhaps disregarded this diplomatic alternative and continued to utilise chemical WMDs.
Despite strong evidence pointing towards Assad’s continuous use of chemical weapons against his own people, he continues to deny such allegations, for example Assad states that the attack on Khan Sheikhoun attack was fabricated to warrant the US airstrikes on Syria that shortly followed, claiming “that the West, mainly the United States, is hand in glove with the terrorists”.
Despite Assad’s denial however, the seventh report of the OPCW-UN joint investigation found that Assad’s regime has evidence of using Sarin nerve agent gas. The regime’s clear neglect for prohibitions limiting their use and possession of chemical weapons means that the regime is unlikely to halt using chemical warfare in the future.
Ultimately, there is evidence that Assad’s regime has resorted to the use of chemical WMDs in the Syrian Civil War, and that use has been widespread yet concealed. As the rebel’s cling onto their final stronghold, we can assume that Assad’s brutal, no-holds-barred approach to military strategy may have put him on the path to victory.