More Than 400 Children Among Those Killed In Syrian Attack

The U.S. intelligence community has released its declassified analysis of the Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack in Syria. The analysis concludes that Syria's government is likely responsible for the attack, which, it says, killed some 1,400 people.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

More now on the evidence that the Obama administration released today implicating the Syrian regime in last week's chemical attack. NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman joins us now. And, Tom, we've been hearing all week about the intelligence that makes the case that Syria's government did this. What did we hear today that's new?

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Well, Robert, there's new information about preparations for the attack, as we heard from Michele, Syrian troops putting on gas masks, getting instructions from superiors. We also learned U.S. intelligence tracked the Syrian rocket launches. So that's why Secretary Kerry could say they were launched from areas held by the Syrian government to areas controlled by the opposition. And then certainly the number killed. The U.S. is now saying 1,429 killed, and at least 426 children were among the dead.

SIEGEL: Let's look at some of the evidence more closely now. There have been reports today about intercepted communications. What more did today's declassified intelligence report say about that?

BOWMAN: Well, the report mentions an unnamed senior Syrian official familiar with the attacks. The U.S. says he confirmed that chemical weapons were used on this very date. And then this official was concerned about U.N. inspectors who are in the country obtaining evidence. So that's all, they say, from intercepted phone calls, and one congressman I talked with said that information was quite compelling.

So, to sum up, the U.S. officials presented three phases here: evidence of preparations, evidence - some of it already public - about the attack itself and then discussions after the attack about what happened.

SIEGEL: How confident are the intelligence agencies in these findings? The report talks about some gaps in our understanding. What can you tell us about those?

BOWMAN: Well, the U.S. lacks physiological evidence, so that's blood, tissue samples. They say specifically that's not part of this analysis. That's something the U.N. is collecting and is still analyzing. And that analysis could determine what chemical agent was used. They still think it's a nerve agent, sarin. But again, they don't have this physical proof. They say they have detailed evidence of sarin from previous attacks by the Syrian government, but not this one.

So a lot of the evidence they have is based on the videos, symptoms they see in the videos, as well as doctors' reports in the hours after the attack. But overall, the report says the U.S. intelligence community concludes with high confidence the Syrian government used chemical weapons against its own people.

SIEGEL: Well, given all this, what response is the U.S. considering?

BOWMAN: Well, even absent that key physical evidence, Robert, there's every indication the Obama administration is planning to move ahead with a limited military action. And everyone I talked with and what we've seen from other reports is some missiles launched from U.S. ships in the Mediterranean against dozens of Syrian military sites. And these sites could include command and control locations, headquarters and then delivery sites like the rockets, for example, that Secretary Kerry said was used to deliver chemical munitions.

And the president again said today there'll be no American boots on the ground here. He's not pushing for regime change. This is what he calls a limited, narrow act by the U.S. military.

SIEGEL: I did not hear him use the phrase again, a shot across the bow, which he'd been criticized for. When you shoot over the bow, the cannonball goes into the water.

BOWMAN: Exactly.

SIEGEL: It doesn't hit anything. They seem to have backed off that, that metaphor.

BOWMAN: Right. I would think anyone who's been in the Navy would realize a shot across the bow is a warning shot. What they're looking at here is a shot into the bow.

SIEGEL: A punitive shot.

BOWMAN: That's right.

SIEGEL: That's NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman. Thanks, Tom.

BOWMAN: Thanks, Robert.

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