US figure for casualties in Syria attack much higher than others’

Britain and France cite far lower numbers, raising questions about intelligence White House is using to make case to launch missile strikes against Syria.
MCT Regional News
Sep 4, 2013
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The death toll given by the Obama administration for an alleged Syrian chemical weapons attack is far higher than confirmed counts of two key allies and a main activist group, which said it was shocked by the U.S. figure.

In pressing Congress to authorize a military strike against Syria, the administration has asserted that the government of President Bashar Assad killed 1,429 people, including at least 426 children, in an Aug. 21 attack on the suburbs of Damascus.

But Britain and France have cited far lower numbers of confirmed deaths, raising questions about the intelligence the White House is using to make its case to launch missile strikes against Syria.

U.S. officials say they can’t disclose how they derived their figure without compromising intelligence, but they say it is based on a variety of sources and they stand by it.

British intelligence organizations said last week that they believed at least 350 people had been killed. French intelligence said Monday that it had confirmed at least 281 deaths through open-source videos, although its experts had created models that were consistent with as many as 1,500 deaths.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, generally regarded as one of the most reliable sources of information on casualty figures in Syria, says it has confirmed 502 deaths, including 80 children and 137 women. Rami Abdul-Rahman, a Syrian expatriate who runs the organization from his home in Britain, said he was shocked by the White House’s count.

“I don’t know where this number came from,” Abdul-Rahman said in a phone interview.

He said some Syrian opposition groups disseminate propaganda and exaggerated death tolls in an attempt to sway American politicians.

“The U.S. took this high number from one part of the Syrian opposition that is supported by the U.S. government,” Abdul-Rahman said. “We don’t trust them.”

U.S. intelligence officials said they didn’t base their assessment on reports from any single opposition group.

Adding to the confusion, a day after Secretary of State John F. Kerry said that “the United States government now knows that at least 1,429 Syrians were killed in this attack,” President Barack Obama on Saturday only referred to “well over 1,000” fatalities.

Kerry didn’t cite any casualty figures in his testimony Tuesday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. And according to an official familiar with a formal intelligence assessment sent to Congress, the document did not include those figures.

The casualty figures are important because the administration is resting its case for military action in part on the scale of the attack. A senior administration official said a previous use of chemical weapons by Assad’s military caused “100 to 150” casualties, which prompted the Obama administration to offer lethal aid to Syrian rebels, but not to contemplate direct military action.

“This is a much larger scale of use,” the official said Friday. “It’s indiscriminate.”

U.S. intelligence officials said Tuesday that foreign intelligence agencies use different methods and resources and often arrive at different casualty counts. A British official in Washington said the British estimate was lower because it was released a few days before the American one.

Shawn Turner, a spokesman for the U.S. director of national intelligence, said, “The information that led to our understanding of the scale of the attack came from a number of sources, including international and Syrian medical personnel, videos, witness accounts and social media reports.

“We’ve said from the beginning that our estimates were preliminary and that we expect to update the number as we obtain more information,” he said.

A senior administration official, who would not be quoted by name discussing classified intelligence, said Obama was not signaling any retreat from the higher figure and that officials believed the death toll could even go beyond 1,429.

A second official said, “The president has no intelligence reason to walk back from that number.”

The precision of the U.S. figure, given the initial confusion surrounding the attack and the often contradictory reports of the violence in Syria, also raised questions among some observers. Anthony Cordesman, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, wrote Monday that the U.S. estimate was “absurdly over-precise” and that Obama’s language created “a mix of contradictions over the most basic facts.”

For now, however, lawmakers do not seem to doubt the intelligence assessment and are instead raising concern about the scope, length and objective of a military campaign against Assad.

Given that the CIA does not have a strong presence in Syria, a former CIA official said, the agency is probably basing its estimates on whatever sources it may have in the Assad government; on reporting from opposition groups; and in mathematical modeling based on the number of rockets fired, wind patterns, dispersal rates, hospital admissions and other data.

“I would suspect most of that information would be on the high side initially,” the former official said. “You’ll have sources who want to influence you, so they’ll give higher figures.”

Syria’s political and military opposition is severely fragmented. The U.S. figure more closely matches reports by pro-opposition organizations such as the Local Coordination Committees and the United Revolutionary Medical Office in eastern Ghouta, a Damascus suburb hit by the alleged chemical attack.

The latter group said it had documented at least 1,302 deaths, about two-thirds of which were women and children. That figure was cited by the U.S.-based Syrian Support Group, which has a federal license to funnel aid to Syrian rebels.

———

By Ken Dilanian and Shashank Bengali - Tribune Washington Bureau (MCT)

©2013 Tribune Co.

Visit Tribune Co. at www.latimes.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

Comments

arnmcrmn

And the liberals will support this war because they are so OBAMA

JACKEL

Now wait a minute,Saddam killed 5000 Kurds and they thought he used chemical weapons and then thought the Iranian's might have been responsible.Our CIA said Iraq had WMD"S and they can't find BIG Foot.Then Bush went after Hussein and he has inherited all the countries woes.Now these idiots are going to help the very people that Crazy Joe Wilson armed to get rid of The Russians.Guess who's weapons they are using against us in Afghanistan.We are already funneling arms to the rebels so if they are successful they can turn on us with our own weapons once again like the Taliban.When you deal with rattles snakes you have to kill them !Now who do think Russia and China is going to support? They already have permits to go through the Suez Canal.

Scranton Tibbs

John McCain must be so OBAMA.

Scranton Tibbs

John Boehner must be so OBAMA

Scranton Tibbs

Lindsey Graham must be so OBAMA.

Scranton Tibbs

Eric Cantor must be so OBAMA.

Scranton Tibbs

Better email the party you champion on here daily, they are failing you. I'm sure you already know that key Republicans support this, and you're not just spouting off to take a dig at the President. I would like to think you know more about politics than you let on.

arnmcrmn

McCain has been a loud mouth for war his entire life. Heck, he'd bomb Canada if given a good enough reason. John B is turning out to be quite the hypocrite. You are going to always have a few that will go along with the current agenda because their head is up for vote.

My point is, the liberal left screamed about Iraq and how we shouldn't of been over there. We did find weapons of mass destruction.....they were Saddam Hussein and his sons. They tortured and killed nearly a million Iraqis. This is the same war in a different location so make your mind up liberals are you for war or not?

I for one think this is a pointless war to get into because all Obama will do is drop billions in bombs and drones and and the only thing is going to do is fire up that region. Its been proven that the middle eastern militants we try to fight are like cockroaches. Sure you can spray them from above and kill a few, but to ACTUALLY change anything you have to hunker down and stay there for a long time. Do we actually want to spend the money we don't have on another pointless war.

We do not have to be the world police.

Meanwhile, millions of America kids go to bed hungry at night. Take care of US first.

Scranton Tibbs

As much as it pains me to admit this...I agree with everything you said 100%. Touche!

Fromthe419

Stay the heck out of Syria and then entire Middle East for that matter. Close down the 900 military bases in 150 countries around the world. We can not afford to the the world's police anymore. We are broke!!!

Cliff Cannon

@Fromthe419 : Couldn't agree with you more. Not only because my pride & joy marine son floats about the Mediterranean on the U.S.S. San Antonio, nor because my marine son-in-law bounces through the Red Sea on the carrier the U.S.S. Kearsage. Nor even because my marine daughter is learning to speak Syrian dialect Arabic for further use in America's foreign policy future.


No I agree because I am an isolationist with these foreign policy goals : America first, America second and America third. As such, our needs are clearly defined to me----take care of home ! ( Have you noticed for example we are being over run by foreign born immigrants, who care nothing about America ? So where are the troops to stop that ? )


To those that argue we need to 'protect' the oil fields for example. I ask from what ? Economic laws say 'supply & demand ' make the market. So control all the oil you want, you still need to sell it,true ? So ,who better to keep the shipping lanes open or get oil to market better than the owner of the oil ?


Obviously, "religion " rears it's nasty head in this debate. And who can argue against " protecting " Jesus, Mohammed or Elohim depending on your flavor here ?


I for one can. Personally, I could care less which " God " you choose to presume to 'protect' in this ugly war. Because, let's face it all these " Gods " are man made inventions.


Seriously, do you really think Buddha said to some people something, while Jesus said another, all the while Mohammed was saying a third thing as the Hindu 'ishvaras' ( Gods ) said yet something else with Elohim adding a new idea ?



So I join with the spiritual people who prefer peace to war, people with compassion for the less fortunate, people who care more about their fellow man, than their own useless selfish selves, people who care about their country's, their family's and dream of a better tomorrow.


So tonight I will pray to Gitchie Manitou ( The Great spirit ) for deliverance from a sickening selfish war loving world, filled with people who just don't understand we could all live together ,if we only tried.

Contango

@ CC:

We also need to consider the economic implications of blackmail.

China and Russia could threaten to dump their billions in U.S. Treasuries as they were rumored to have threatened to do during the 2007-08 financial crisis.

http://www.dailykos.com/story/20...

The 10 yr. U.S. Treasury is pushing 3% this morning.

Rising interest rates would more than likely hurt any U.S. economic growth which is currently pretty lousy.

Not unprecedented:

Eisenhower used U.S. ownership of their debt in order to help force Britain out of Egypt in 1956.

See "Financial Pressure" 7.5:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sue...

Cliff Cannon

@ Contango: Point acknowledged. Obviously at this level, so many 'games' in side 'the game' can be played,by so many players. That at our level of info we would no doubt be constantly shocked, at how many idea's for winning a war there really are.


Having said that, I also point to tonight's ' Reflector's ' editorial on all the implications of ---not hitting--- Syria. And I for one found many compelling idea's for needing to attack them.


Still, I can only say for sure, I feel a bad situation is about to get worse. Then add those $%%^&*&%$# morons who wrote the Versailles treaty ought to be dug up and shot.


P.S. Apparently, you are making an impact on some leaders. Was asked your true identity today

Contango

Re: "And I for one found many compelling idea's for needing to attack them."

No UN or Arab League mandate and so far no U.S. Congressional mandate - "compelling" enough for me NOT to strike.

Sure you'll agree: Guess one can "talk tough" when it ain't you or a loved one in harm's way.

I recently read that Switzerland has not fought a foreign war since 1813.

I wish there'd come a day when the U.S. could honor it's last living foreign war veteran.

---------------------

Re: "Was asked your true identity today"

In what context?

Good to know.

Cliff Cannon

@ Contango : I suppose every living person is as filled with contradictions as I am. On the one hand,I love military history and the story's of incredible courage that go with it.


On the other hand having visited slaughter pens like Gettysburg, Shiloh, Antietam to name a few. I wonder how could man have invented such ghastly practice as war.


Even worse,when one pauses to study not only the field commanders, but the political leaders as well involved in so many many war debacles it is enough to bring vomit to ones throat ( think lbj. nuff' said ? ) isn't it ?


For many years, I have wanted our brave fighting men & women to come home. I understand that decades of interference in other country's affairs have left with countless enemy's to contend with. Still, I join you in wanting to honor our last living foreign war veteran.


Considering the reality's of the day I agree we have no choice but to takeout the Syrian chemical weapons.Yet,then what ? Another Iraq ? General war through out the middle east ?


Further, referring to inept political leaders. Mr. Obama recently fired the pride of the Marine corp. General " Mad Dog " Mattis. So needless to say how the average Marine feels about the commander in chief, is there ? ( The one's I've met also know he will " Benghazi " them in a heart beat too, which sickens them )


As for Switzerland. I thoroughly despise them for making money on other peoples blood. Here's hoping Dante's right that " the hottest spot in hell, is reserved for those who in times of moral crisis that remain neutral"


P.S. As to the question of your true identity. It came in a discussion on current events from a city leader who of course " doesn't read blogs " :) I suggested they look past your vinegary retort's and examine your idea's.( Obviously, I don't know your true identity, so don't look for police cars out side your home :)


Great weekend to you

Contango

Re: "a city leader"

Thanks. Obviously, somebody who wanted to "hand it" to me.

Feel free to inform them that I will continue to do my best to irritate them.

As a born and raised Norwalkian, I can tell you that many of the seniors I speak with are pretty disgusted with the state of the city.

See: Exodus 2:22 & Matthew 10:14

Cliff Cannon

@ Contango : Which version of the Bible ( what do we have 40-50 choices at least ) did you want me to look these up in ?. Just kidding.


I read them both verses and must say you are not a stranger in a foreign land. Your merely a concerned citizen--- like virtually every commentator in blogville---- who would like to help make our home a better place and what's wrong with that ?


P.S. " Once, it is decided a 'thing' is to be done. A thousand ways of accomplishing that 'thing' are possible "
Thomas Carlyle

Contango

Re: "Your merely a concerned citizen-"

I pretty much just want area property values to remain as high as possible until I eventually have to sell the family estate and distribute the proceeds accordingly.

With the loss of mfg. and the rise in the number in the lower socio-economic class over the yrs., it's increasingly become a concern.

Regarding the TC quote:

"A good solution applied with vigor now is better than a perfect solution applied ten minutes later." - Gen. Geo. S. Patton, Jr.

Contango

Re: "I agree we have no choice but to takeout the Syrian chemical weapons."

Good luck with that. And also why are not attacking Iran?

Pres. Bush's invasion of Iraq prompted Libya to give up it's WMD PEACEFULLY.

The CIA reportedly said that Kaddafi was further along in development then they knew.

Cliff Cannon

@ Contango : " And also why are not attacking Iran? " That's my point about isolation. Who do we attack and who do we leave alone ? Who's on our side in this regime, then on the bad guys side in the next regime ?


Obviously, we have neither the man power, the money, nor the equipment to police the world. So what are we to do ?


Truthfully,mankind, reminds me of the the cat biting it's own tail. We just keep going in circles. Then wonder why we don't accomplish anything

Contango

Re: "As for Switzerland. I thoroughly despise them for making money on other peoples blood."

Neutrality MEANS neutrality.

Better that they be overrun by the SS?

The Swiss also helped many Jews to escape.

Cliff Cannon

@ Contango: " Neutrality MEANS neutrality." I agree. So do the Swiss, that is until, anyone ( war profiteers , drug lords, dictators, etc) has money, gold,art works, etc that they want to keep in their banks with numbers, not names on those accounts.


Then 'neutrality ' exits, for profit, doesn't it ?


I agree in war they are as formidable as say Luxemburg, so neutrality works for them in war. Besides, when Americans like Dulles or Donovan wanted to meet Germans like Kanaris. What a better place to meet than Switzerland ?

Contango

Re: "'neutrality ' exits, for profit, doesn't it ?"

It ain't necessarily so.

Sweden was also neutral in WW2.

Switzerland is no longer the tax haven that it was.

After the bank "bail-in" in Cyprus, "matresses" are better for stashing cash in Europe now.

The EU has no FDIC-like insurance for bank accounts.

Scranton Tibbs

Someone better email John Boehner, Lindsay Graham, and John McCain and tell them that, as Republicans, one should NEVER agree with the president. Especially BOZO (I wanted to say it first before someone else did). While I don't necessarily agree with military action, and agree with Fromthe419, it never ceases to amaze me how some people use this as a sounding board for their political views. This isn't a Rep v. Dem issue.

JudgeMeNot

I wonder if the Nobel center will ask for that peace prize back?

JACKEL

I am an independent and I will be calling all I can to tell them I will be voting against every one of them that spends one more dollar of my money on their BS Wars !They don't seem to get too upset in Darfur where they are throwing live babies on the fire or the 56 million abortions since 73 !I am sick of the Rich Lieing a holes like Kerry,even Putin thinks he a liar !

kURTje

Attention 1rst poster: From Dr. to Dentist. Now Warrior. What an expert!

arnmcrmn

kurtje....the only warrior you ever will be is a keyboard warrior.

JACKEL

Kurt ,How many years of your youth did you pay for your freedom ?

Contango

And the "end game" of firing a few cruise missiles into Syria is what?

The Admin. has already stated that regime change is NOT the goal of this action.

If Pres. Obama wants to show his displeasure, do it with a terse statement.

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