nikki haley hearing 06 28
Haley: Trump's warning stopped Assad
00:56 - Source: CNN

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The US believes the Syrian regime has "dispersed" its aircraft based at Shayrat

The White House had warned President Bashar al-Assad would pay a heavy price for using chemical weapons

CNN  — 

The US military has seen no new activity near the chemical weapons installations at the Shayrat Airbase in Syria in the last 24 hours, two US officials told CNN.

Two US military officials had previously told CNN Wednesday that Russians visited the Shayrat airbase on Tuesday. One of the officials said the US military thinks it is “highly likely” that the Russians inspected a one-time chemical weapons shelter.

The officials told CNN Thursday that following the Russian inspection of the airfield, the Syrian regime has “dispersed” its aircraft based at Shayrat.

The regime forces have moved some their aircraft to other airbases and spread others around the airfield, away from the chemical weapons bunkers and away from other aircraft, the officials said, based on the latest imagery seen by the US. The Assad regime had similarly dispersed its aircraft following the April US cruise missile strike against the airfield which was launched in retaliation for a chemical weapons attack by regime aircraft.

“The Russians appeared to have been helpful on this one,” one of the officials said.

Several defense officials had told CNN Wednesday that Syria’s Shayrat airbase remained under constant overhead surveillance by the US for further signs of whether a chemical strike may be in the works.

The US had earlier observed the movement of an aircraft and chemical agents on the base that indicated possible preparation for an attack, leading the White House to issue a public warning late Monday that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would pay a heavy price for using chemical weapons.

Earlier Wednesday, Defense Secretary James Mattis said he believed Syria has backed down in the face of the White House’s warning.

“It appears that they took the warning seriously,” Mattis told reporters during a trip to Brussels for a NATO meeting. “They didn’t do it.”

Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, told Congress Wednesday that Trump’s warning stopped the Assad regime.

“I can tell you that due to the President’s actions, we did not see an incident,” Haley said at a House foreign affairs committee hearing. “I would like to think that the President saved many innocent men, women and children.”

But defense officials emphasize that military options are ready to present to Trump and that the intelligence could become more specific at any time. One factor US intelligence is trying to determine is the role the Russians are playing in this effort – chemical weapons use has been condemned by the Kremlin, but if Assad proceeds, it may demonstrate he is trying to publicly show independence from Moscow, officials say.

For its part, the Syrian Foreign Ministry issued a statement calling US allegations regarding the Assad regime’s intention to launch a chemical attack “misleading, false and baseless,” according to Syrian state media.

The statement said that the allegations “aim to justify a new aggression on Syria under false pretexts as happened in al-Shairat Airport, and to cover the US-led international illegal coalition’s strikes,” according to state media, SANA.