On Monday afternoon, the Associated Press quoted an unnamed “senior U.S. official” who said the United States government has concluded Russia had advance knowledge of Syria’s chemical weapons attack in Idlib province.
The source, who was not “authorized to speak publicly on intelligence matters,” said the U.S. has also concluded Russia operated a drone that flew over the hospital where victims of the chemical attack were receiving treatment, and might have been piloting the warplane that subsequently bombed the hospital.
“The official said the presence of the drone couldn’t have been a coincidence, and that Russia must have known the chemical weapons attack was coming and that victims were seeking treatment,” the AP writes.
Pentagon officials have previously stated there is “no credible alternative” to a Syrian air attack delivering chemical weapons to the targeted city of Khan Sheikhoun, and expressed suspicions the Syrians had Russian help, citing the presence of Russian personnel at the Sharyat airbase. The Pentagon was also “very interested” in the follow-up attack on the hospital mentioned by the Associated Press.
As far back as Friday, U.S. officials were investigating reports of a drone flight over the hospital, and seeking to establish whether Russian or Syrian forces subsequently attacked it. The Russians, for their part, announced they would “strengthen and raise the effectiveness” of Syrian air defenses after the attack, while simultaneously claiming few of the American cruise missiles hit their targets at the Sharyat airbase.
Shortly before the Associated Press issued this report, Senate Armed Services Committee chairman John McCain (R-AZ) publicly accused Russia of cooperating with Syria in the attack.
“The Russians knew about chemical weapons because they were operating exactly from the same base,” McCain asserted. “I hope that this behavior by Syria, in what clearly is cooperation with Russia and Syria together, will never happen again.”