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.
TNS Regional News
Sep 4, 2013


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.

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Distributed by MCT Information Services



lol terse statements do not produce corporate profit. That's your "end game".

Cliff Cannon

@ rogerthat: Sickening,but true


Re: "corporate profit."

So who's Pres. Obama seeking to pay off?

Cliff Cannon

@ Contango : One of the great things about being a JFK buff is his book " Profiles in Courage " That is where I first heard of Sen. George Norris. His out spoken opposition to W.W.1 is a thing of beauty.

Here fresh from Wikipedia is his answer to your question " Who's Obama paying off ?" :

" Norris believed that the government wanted to take part in this war only because the wealthy had already aided the British financially in the war. He told Congress that the only people who would benefit from the war were "munition manufacturers, stockbrokers, and bond dealers" and added that "war brings no prosperity to the great mass of common and patriotic citizens.... War brings prosperity to the stock gambler on Wall Street–to those who are already in possession of more wealth than can be realized or enjoyed."



@ CC:

Good stuff.

Also, from Country Joe and The Fish:

"Yeah, come on Wall Street, don't be slow,
Why man, this is war au-go-go
There's plenty good money to be made
By supplying the Army with the tools of its trade,"

- "I-Feel-Like-I'm-Fixin'-To-Die-Rag"

JudgeMeNot's picture

Rand Paul: The hard 'No'

Rand Paul compares Kerry to a 'clairvoyant'.

Its really about the bankers wanting 'O-bomb-us' to show the rest of the middle east that the dollar will remain the currency in oil payments. Syria will be the example.


Yeah "Dr. e." you know where you go for lying too. Your grandparents made much $$ by getting many drunk. Right? Only a "couple of years of my youth Jackel." Btw, before this country existed the populace there were fighting each other - similar to Serbs & Bosnia. Know your facts & history. Of course some had to throw politics in it. S.Tibbs was right.


Its pretty easy to see they have been fighting since days beginning....I mean they do call it the ultimate Holy War over there don't they? My grandpa was a proud bar owner, if someone got drunk that was their problem....but of course why you bring that up baffles me, yet on the same note doesn't surprise me one bit.

Kottage Kat

Contago and CLIFF,
TY for a genuinely sensible and enlightened comments. It gives clarity to those of us ( me) who do not follow world politics as I should.
Appreciate ALL on topic discussion.

Cliff Cannon

@ Kottage Kat : Thanks but I am not sure 'clarity' is totally possible on events of this magnitude is it ? I also agree with your observation to-- " Appreciate ALL on topic discussion" as there are certainly many very enlightening thinkers commenting on this topic.

P.S. While I have you. Wanted to let you know how much I appreciated Mayor Duncan's inspiring comments at Tuesday's council meeting. That is certainly what we need at this time, isn't it ?


Re: "Mayor Duncan's inspiring comments"

Anything substantive or merely "inspirational"?

I've been in sales too long; ya either produce, or you go elsewhere.

See: MT 7:7


BTW: I got thinking about your conversation with the so-called "leader."

If my opinions are a "problem," I gotta mention the NR website.

On almost any given day, it's packed with stories regarding drugs, arrests, crime, layoffs, and other negatives.

If I were thinking about moving (or remaining) here, it would DEFINITELY factor into my decision making process.

Cliff Cannon

@ Contango: Where do I start ? How about 'inspiring comments ' It is true, in sales you either produce or leave. However, in political leadership it is very different isn't it ?

To wit: Ronald Reagan your self acknowledged favorite President. What the man provided was leadership through his inspirational speaking. As far as hands on leadership, that wasn't him. However,few if any ever set the tone like him and to me that ---is exactly, what a political leader should do----set the tone.

As for the 'Reflector' they are normally a mirror to what's going around them.( Sadly, how different is Huron county from the rest of todays America? ) Yet, I will say they pander way to much to goofy sex story's for my tastes.

Obviously, they are also a business though and it is most certainly not lost on them that here in blogville( which is a good barometer for them ) people flock to the bad news story's. While almost invariably they never comment on 'good news' story's. Which leaves this question: What are they to do ?

It was a business leader who wondered who you were. Which given your love of business is why I hope they read you in the blogs, even though they " don't read them ". :)

Matt 7:7 If that ain't the truth ; what is ?( Mistakenly, I thought for sure it was going to be the thought from Matt 7:6 ) So let me suggest you listen to Elvis sing " Welcome to my world " it will warm your heart


It looks like we're goin' to war (again) boys and girls.

"The US secretary of state has said that President Bashar al-Assad has one week to hand over his entire stock of chemical weapons to avoid a military attack."

Cliff Cannon

@ Contango: Yuck !