If the Assad regime carries out another chemical weapons attack on Syrian civilians, where should the United States target for its next retaliatory strike?
On Monday night, the White House released a statement declaring that Assad would face major repercussions for going forward with another WMD attack on innocents.
— Sean Spicer (@PressSec) June 27, 2017
“The United States has identified potential preparations for another chemical weapons attack by the Assad regime that would likely result in the mass murder of civilians, including innocent children,” the statement read. “If … Mr. Assad conducts another mass murder attack using chemical weapons, he and his military will pay a heavy price.”
Unlike the Obama administration, the Trump White House has shown that they enforce their red lines with action. In early April of this year, U.S. forces fired 59 Tomahawk missiles at a Syrian regime air base, in retaliation to a chemical weapons attack on civilians in Khan Sheikhoun.
The Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Centre (SSRC) could serve as a potential high-risk, high-reward target for U.S. forces. The SSRC is “responsible not only for the development, production, and munitions integration of chemical agents, but also the means of their battlefield and theatre delivery,” according to IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly.
Since its founding in 1971, the SSRC has been used to advanced Syria’s weapons program. Hafez al-Assad, current dictator Bashar al-Assad’s founder, set up the facility under the cover of a supposed civilian scientific research center.
Syrian regime leaders reportedly utilize the SSRC to mass-produce extremely deadly chemical agents, such as mustard gas, the VX nerve agent, and Sarin (the compound allegedly used in the Khan Sheikhoun attack). Because the facility is also used for missile development, those very chemical agents can seamlessly be transferred onto warheads. French intelligence officials have pinpointed the Syrian regime’s “Branch 450” as responsible for loading munitions with chemical agents.
The SSRC was reportedly utilized to produce the “Volcano” missiles used for a 2013 regime chemical attack on Ghouta, Syria, that resulted in the death of hundreds of innocents.
The White House appears to recognize that the SSRC serves as the chief producer of Syria’s chemical stockpile. In late April, the U.S. sanctioned 271 SSRC employees in response to the Syrian chemical attack in Khan Sheikhoun.
Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin explained at the time:
“These sweeping sanctions target the scientific support center for Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad’s horrific chemical weapons attack on innocent civilian men, women, and children. The United States is sending a strong message with this action that we will hold the entire Assad regime accountable for these blatant human rights violations in order to deter the spread of these types of barbaric chemical weapons. We take Syria’s disregard for innocent human life very seriously, and will relentlessly pursue and shut down the financial networks of all individuals involved with the production of chemical weapons used to commit these atrocities.”
So what exactly is stopping the United States from striking the SSRC?
At issue is the possible exposure a missile blast could perhaps have on the surrounding populations. Targeting the facility could result in the release of extremely deadly material, which could then spread into the surrounding Damascus area where the SSRC is located.
Regardless of whether or not the U.S. is willing to strike the compound, the SSRC serves as the main procurement center for Syria’s WMD program. Until coalition forces can somehow either choke off or destroy the facility, the regime will be free to continue to develop weapons that threaten U.S. and global security.