Should Cheap and Lethal Barrel Bombs Be the New 'Red Line' in Syria?
Policy + Politics

Should Cheap and Lethal Barrel Bombs Be the New 'Red Line' in Syria?

REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi

Senator Lindsey Graham, a frequent critic of President Trump but a supporter of his strike last week against the regime of Bashar al-Assad, said on Tuesday that barrel bombs should be the new “red line” in Syria.

“Here’s what I would tell President Trump,” the South Carolina Republican said in a CNN interview. “You did a great thing by enforcing the chemical weapons violation. But it's not about how you killed the babies; it's the fact that you're slaughtering innocent people through air power.”

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Graham’s comments came on the heels of remarks made by Trump Press Secretary Sean Spicer on Monday in which he said at the daily press briefing: "If you gas a baby… if you put a barrel bomb into innocent people, I think you will see a response from this president."

Spicer, under heavy fire on Wednesday for blunders about Hitler and his use of deadly gas, walked back his barrel bomb comment a few hours after he made it. In a statement, he said, "The president retains the option to act in Syria against the Assad regime whenever it is in the national interest, as was determined following that government's use of chemical weapons against its own citizens. And as the President has repeatedly made clear, he will not be telegraphing his military responses."

What exactly is a barrel bomb?

First said to be used by Israel in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War and later dropped by the U.S. on the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War, barrel bombs are crude but deadly devices similar to the IEDs (improvised explosive devices) used in Iraq and Afghanistan against allied forces.

Fins are welded onto metal containers, usually 55-gallon oil drums, which are fitted with an impact fuse that goes off when it strikes the ground. The drums are filled with explosives and pieces of metal such as nuts, bolts and nails and dropped on enemy positions from helicopters or planes.

The unguided bombs are indiscriminate weapons that explode on impact and can kill or wound anyone within the range of the flying metal.

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But barrel bombs, which can be constructed for a few hundred dollars, can contain lethal material other than metal shards. A 2015 video on the website shows what is alleged to be a Syrian army helicopter dropping a barrel bomb filled with chlorine gas on a village near Aleppo.

Assad has denied that Syria uses barrel bombs.