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Retired U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Paul Vallely says he has confirmation that Syrian forces have used chemical weapons against rebel forces and civilians, and those weapons are likely stockpiles received from Iraq prior to the U.S.-led invasion 10 years ago.
Vallely has met twice in the region with military commanders for the Free Syrian Army, which he describes as the largest and much more moderate faction among the rebels, which also include elements of al-Qaida and the Muslim Brotherhood. He also gets regular reports from a Canadian medical team. Vallely told WND that team is certain that a chlorine gas weapon was used in recent strikes.
"From what I received from the Canadian medical team who works out of Aleppo is that is was chlorine and that what you saw were the reactions on those videos that were put out within the last week," Vallely said. "The chlorine, the choking, the skin, depending on the density of the chlorine will cause skin irritation. If it's mixed with other types of gases too, then it could have an even more enhanced effect on the human body, not only breathing but on the skin."
Vallely believes the chemical weapons are clearly the work of the Assad regime and that the regime will try to pin the blame on the rebels. He said this is not the first time that the beleaguered government has turned WMD on its own people and that he has evidence of a similar attack last summer.
"We had photos and pictures of that which I provided the Defense Department as well as other people in our intelligence organizations," he said.
But Vallely's more stunning revelation is that he is virtually certain that Syria is in possession of Saddam Hussein's old arsenal of weapons of mass destruction and some of those may be on display in this civil war.
"If you go back to January through March of 2003, we had intelligence in the Defense Department that the Russians helped move, by convoy, a lot of the chemical and biological weapons into two locations in Syria and one in the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon," Vallely said. "We think Russia and Iran have enhanced their inventory. The vast majority of those chemical and biological weapons were from Iraq."
The general said he is 95 percent sure Iraq's stockpiles are in Syria, and there is additional evidence of that which never came to light in the previous administration.
"After the takedown of Saddam in 2003, there was a big survey done by U.S. forces all throughout Iraq. Basically, as far as I know, all of the bio and chemical weapons had been moved. They found semblance of a growing nuclear development program, but it was not an aggressive program by any means," Vallely said. "So the fact is that he had them, used them on his own people. He knew he had to get them out of there, and there was a big cover-up and deception in how he moved them over there. We did know about them, but the Bush administration never came forth and explained to the American people that situation."
Vallely said the arsenal now in Syria's possession most likely includes Serrin and VX nerve gas in addition to chlorine, and the likely shelf life of the weapons means they would still be usable. He said the range of a chlorine gas strike depends largely upon how the weapon is delivered.
"It depends on the warhead or whether it's dispersed in canisters and sprayed on the ground, much like they do with tear gas. So, it can range all the way from a tank hanging off an aircraft, which would be a fairly big load that could cover several miles. By artillery, you're probably talking about the same thing (as) with rockets and missiles. The close-in stuff, you're talking 100-200 yards," Vallely said.
There are also reports of secret arms shipments flowing into the region to help topple the Assad regime. During the investigation of the terrorist attack in Benghazi, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., questioned then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton about weapons from the Ghaddafi regime in Libya being smuggled to the Syrian rebels through Turkey. Vallely was less certain about reports of weapons being moved in to help the rebels.
"We have a high degree of confidence that there were gun systems, particularly shoulder-fired missiles. Ghaddafi had a tremendous inventory of weapons – machine guns, rifles, pistols, ammunition," Vallely said. "I believe, from I have received so far, that there was something there going on and supplying those weapons up to Syria. Where they ended up, I don't know."
Despite the use of chemical weapons, Vallely still believes Bashar Assad will fall within months, based on continued defections from the Syrian Army and the dwindling amount of territory still in government control.