US defence officials 'have no idea’ why White House made statement on possible Syrian chemical attack

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The White House has said it believes the Syrian government is planning a chemical weapons attack and warned Syrian President Bashar al-Assad that his government will “pay a heavy price” it it does so - but several US defence officials have said they are not familiar with the intelligence that informed the statement.
“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,” White House spokesperson Sean Spicer said on Monday, claiming the planning was similar in nature to the steps taken before the 4 April sarin gas attack in Khan Sheikhoun that killed dozens of civilians. 
The incident prompted US President Donald Trump to launch a “one off” retaliatory cruise missile strike on a Syrian air base - the first direct intervention by the US in more than six years of the Syrian civil war.   
“If... Mr. Assad conducts another mass murder attack using chemical weapons, he and his military will pay a heavy price,” Mr Spicer continued.
The Syrian government has consistently denied that it carried out the attack or that it possesses any chemical weapons after giving up its stocks to international inspectors in 2013. 
White House officials did not respond to requests for comment on the allegations or what form US retaliation would take. Several sources across the US State Department, Pentagon and Central Command, which oversees the US’ military operations in Syria and Iraq - said that they did not know what had prompted the unprecedented threat to the Assad regime. 
Officials at US Central Command told BuzzFeed News they had “no idea” what prompted the statement.  
Several policy advisors at the State Department appeared not to have been briefed before the White House statement went out, learning about the news from reporters instead.
An intelligence officer familiar with the issue told Reuters that there had been “abnormal” activity at several sites where the Syrian government is suspected of hiding or creating new chemical weapons agents.
Although the intelligence was not considered conclusive, the administration issued the swift public warning about the consequences of another chemical attack in an attempt to deter such action, the official said.  
Mr Trump himself, who took to Twitter shortly after the statement was published, did not address the threat made to Syria, talking instead about a Fox News report about former President Barack Obama’s failure to stop Russian interference in the 2016 general election. 
The warning to the Syrian government comes three days after US Army Colonel Ryan Dillon, spokesperson for the international coalition against Isis, told reporters in Baghdad that the US would welcome concerted efforts from Syria and its Iranian and Russian allies to eliminate the extremists in the east of the country.

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