Russian forces were aware of Bashar al-Assad’s plan to use chemical weapons to attack his own people and may have attempted to cover up the incident afterward, according to a report from the Associated Press citing an unnamed U.S. official. The official gave information on the conclusions the Pentagon reached after studying the aftermath of the attacks in Syria. From the AP:
The official said a drone operated by Russians was flying over a hospital as victims of the attack were rushing to get treatment. Hours after the drone left, a Russian-made fighter jet bombed the hospital in what American officials believe was an attempt to cover up the usage of chemical weapons.
The official said the presence of the surveillance drone over the hospital couldn’t have been a coincidence, and that Russia must have known the chemical weapons attack was coming and that victims were seeking treatment.
The AP notes that U.S. officials had previously said they were uncertain about whether the drone was Russian or Syrian. Additionally, although the jet that bombed the hospital was Russian-made, U.S. officials have said they remain unsure whether it was being piloted by Russian or Syrian forces.
The news comes as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is set to head to Moscow for talks aimed in part at getting Russia to reconsider its relationship with Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad. Theories that Russia must have been aware that a chemical attack had been planned have been floated by the Trump administration in recent days. “I think what we should do is ask Russia, how could it be, if you have advisers at that airfield, that you didn’t know that the Syrian air force was preparing and executing a mass murder attack with chemical weapons?” National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster told Fox News on Sunday. Russia has denied that Syrian forces were responsible for the chemical attack in the first place.