The Obama Administration informed lawmakers in a letter on Thursday that it believes the regime of Bashar al Assad has employed the chemical agent sarin in the Syrian civil war. “Our intelligence community does assess with varying degrees of confidence that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons on a small scale in Syria, specifically the chemical agent sarin,” states the April 25 missive to Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), Senate Armed Services Committee chairman, and SASC member Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). The White House said its assessment was based on “physiological samples,” but would not specify what those were. Further, an Administration official said the chain of custody of the samples was not clear, nor were the conditions of exposure. “We still have some uncertainties about what was used . . . where it was used, who used it,” Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel told reporters in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, on Thursday. The White House has maintained that use of such weapons in the conflict would cross a “red line” that would change the calculus on US military intervention. After the disclosure, some senior lawmakers such as McCain and Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.), who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, called for action to prevent more widespread use of chemical weapons in Syria. (Hagel statement) (Hagel transcript) (White House background briefing transcript)
The Air Force overall reduced its size by 120 aircraft in fiscal year 2021, but kept about the same number of fighter, bomber and attack aircraft, according to data supplied by the service. The F-35 fleet saw the biggest increase while the B-1B bomber fleet saw the largest decline.