Experts challenge U.S. claim on setting back Syria weapons capability

The Pentagon claimed Saturday the U.S.-led attack on Syria set back regime’s chemical weapons program “for years,” but experts contend those assertions may be exaggerated.

On Friday, forces from France, Britain and the U.S. launched combined strikes on three military targets associated with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s chemical weapons program, including a research and development facility outside the capital Damascus.

Yet defense analysts that spoke to CNBC suggested that some of the dangerous material is probably still available, or relatively easy to reproduce.

“The damage assessment is suspiciously quick.” said Anthony Cordesman, a former Pentagon official who is an analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank…

“That claim that Syria was set back for years is pure PR,” said Jeffrey Lewis, a former U.S. defense official and now the director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at California-based Middlebury Institute of International Studies.

According to Lewis, the Department of Defense’s “battle damage assessments are never that strong, especially not this fast and from afar. They can hope that they’ve set back the program for a years, but it’s more likely that the setback is more modest.”

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