White House deputy national security advisor Ben Rhodes explained the Obama administration's decision to step up action in Syria.
"There's an urgency to the situation," Rhodes said on a conference call last night. "There has been an urgency to the situation for two years. It's particularly urgent right now in terms of the situation on the ground, in some respect, because we have seen Hezbollah and Iran increase their own involvement in the conflict, and that has caused an influx of additional fighters to the conflict. And so that has added an element of urgency."
Rhodes added, "In our mind, the high-confidence assessment that chemical weapons has been used also adds an element of urgency as well given the norms that exist against the use of chemical weapons. So we are acting on a number of fronts in that regard."
Elsewhere Rhodes outlined the damage is believed to have done:
"[O]ur intelligence community assesses that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons, including the nerve agent sarin, on a small scale against the opposition multiple times in the last year. Our intelligence community has high confidence given the multiple independent streams of information associated with their reporting.
"The intelligence community estimates that 100 to 150 people have died from detected chemical weapons attacks in Syria to date. I would note that that casualty data is likely incomplete, but that is what we’ve reviewed through our investigation.
"This is clearly a small portion of the catastrophic loss of life in Syria that now totals more than 90,000 deaths. But as we’ve consistently said, the use of chemical weapons violates international norms and crosses red lines that have existed in the international community for decades."