American officials said Wednesday there was no “smoking gun” that directly links Syrian President Bashar Assad
to last week's chemical attack
near Damascus, the New York Times reported Wednesday.
They said Thursday's public intelligence presentation will not contain specific electronic intercepts of communications between Syrian commanders or detailed reporting from spies and sources on the ground.
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But even without hard evidence tying Assad to the attack, administration officials asserted, the Syrian leader bears ultimate responsibility for the actions of his troops and should be held accountable.
According to the report, US officials tried to lower expectations about the public intelligence presentation
but said that communications between military commanders intercepted after Wednesday’s attack provided proof that the assault was not the result of a rogue unit acting against orders. It is unclear how much detail about these communications, if any, will be made public.
Meanwhile, Reuters reported that Assad's forces appear to have evacuated most personnel from army and security command headquarters in central Damascus
in preparation for a Western military strike.
Army units stationed near the capital have confiscated several trailer trucks, apparently to transport heavy weaponry to alternative locations, though no significant movement of military hardware has been reported, possibly due to heavy fighting near major highways, one of the sources added.
Armored vehicles and trucks carrying troops were seen leaving the Damascus International Airport area, which includes three army bases, and heading toward the nearby town of Harran al-Awamid, opposition activist Ma'moun al-Ghoutani said by phone from the area, adding that lights had been turned off at the airport.
President Barack Obama made the case on Wednesday for a limited military strike against Syria
to deter the future use of chemical weapons, but added he had not made a decision yet on whether to take action.
Obama said US officials had concluded the Syrian government was responsible for the attacks, and did not believe the Syrian opposition had a role in them.
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