(CNSNews.com) – The Assad regime claims that a complex near Damascus struck by U.S. missiles on Friday was a center for manufacturing cancer medicine and analyzing pharmaceutical and food products – yet another example of the type of disinformation that has become a prominent feature in the Syrian conflict.
According to the Pentagon, the Syrian installation most heavily targeted was the Barzeh chemical weapons research and development center near Damascus, which was hit by 76 missiles launched from U.S. Navy vessels and B-1 Lancer bombers.
The complex was destroyed, U.S. Joint Staff Director Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie told reporters, adding that “this is going to set the Syrian chemical weapons program back for years.”
The second target was the Him Shinshar chemical weapons storage facility in Homs province, targeted with 22 missiles, and the third was a nearby chemical weapons bunker facility, which was targeted with seven missiles.
Syrian state media, however, described the Barzeh complex as a “scientific research center specialized with cancer medicine.”
“The facility, called the Pharmaceutical and Chemical Industries Research Institute, works on preparing the chemical compositions for cancer drugs, and conducts chemical analyses of the materials entering Syria which are used in pharmaceutical and food industries,” the SANA state news agency claimed.
The Assad regime’s representative at the U.N., Bashar al-Jaafari, claimed the Barzeh complex “contained an educational center and science labs,” and added that the attack sustained “only material damage.” In fact, aerial photographs indicate that the center was completely demolished.
Jaafari charged that a “prefabricated media campaign” promoted “a fake victory and fabricated achievements that they know implicitly to be mere lies.”
In fact, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons says the Barzeh (aka Barzah) complex is a facility of Syria’s Scientific Studies and Research Center (SSRC).
U.S. intelligence has linked the SSRC to Assad’s non-conventional weapons programs for years. The George W. Bush administration in 2005 designated the SSRC under executive order 13382, which deals with support for weapons of mass destruction proliferation.
The U.S. Treasury Department, when designating SSRC subsidiaries two years later, described the SSRC as “the Syrian government agency responsible for developing and producing non-conventional weapons and the missiles to deliver them” – a description it reaffirmed as recently as a year ago.
The department said that while the center has an overt civilian research function, “its activities focus substantively on the development of biological and chemical weapons.”
Just last month, a periodic U.N. report focused on North Korea’s illicit weapons activities cited reports that North Korean missile technicians “continued to operate at chemical weapons and missile facilities at Barzah …”
Defense Secretary James Mattis predicted a “significant disinformation campaign” over Friday night’s U.S., British and French missile strikes on the three Syrian chemical weapons-linked installations.
In its account of the attack, the Russian military claimed that the U.S. and allies had targeted not just Barzeh but also six airbases – Damascus, Al-Dumayr, Blai, Homs, Mazzeh and Shayrat. (Shayrat was the Syrian airbase targeted by 59 U.S. cruise missiles in April last year, after the Trump administration linked it to a previous sarin gas attack, in Khan Sheikhun in Idlib province.)
There was no indication from the Pentagon that any airbases were targeted.
McKenzie said the three targets that were chosen were carefully selected “to minimize the risk to innocent civilians.” Neither side has claimed any fatalities in the strikes. At the U.N., Jaafari claimed three civilians were injured near Homs.