'Most believe that it was an accident': Pentagon chief contradicts Trump on Beirut explosion

Less than 24 hours after President Trump said some “great generals” told him they thought that Tuesday’s massive explosion in Beirut was an “attack” involving “a bomb of some kind,” Defense Secretary Mark Esper seemed less than convinced by that explanation.

Speaking to an online audience Wednesday as part of the Aspen Security Forum, Esper said he was “still getting information” on the blast in the Lebanese capital, but that “most believe that it was an accident, as reported.”

Defense Secretary Mark Esper. (Michael Reynolds/Pool via AP)Defense Secretary Mark Esper. (Michael Reynolds/Pool via AP)
Defense Secretary Mark Esper. (Michael Reynolds/Pool via AP)

By Wednesday afternoon, the death toll from Tuesday’s explosion in Beirut’s port stood at more than 100 people, with thousands injured and 300,000 rendered at least temporarily homeless by the damage. Lebanese investigators quickly homed in on a warehouse filled with 2,700 tons of ammonium nitrate. They believe that the chemical, which had been removed from a ship abandoned in the port, was the likely cause of the blast.

Asked to explain the discrepancy between Trump’s comments and Esper’s explanation, and to identify which generals the president might have been referring to as the source of his information, a Pentagon spokesman replied via email: “We have nothing to offer at this time beyond the Secretary’s comments.” The White House did not respond on the record to questions from Yahoo News.

Esper echoed a statement from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo earlier Wednesday offering condolences and assistance to the Lebanese people. “We mourn for the dozens, possibly hundreds of people killed and thousands more hurt,” Esper said. “We’re positioning ourselves to provide whatever humanitarian assistance they need.”

A readout of a Wednesday phone call between Pompeo and Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab also did not mention any potential “attacks” in relation to the explosion. “Secretary Pompeo expressed his condolences to the Lebanese people for the horrible explosion at the Beirut port, which killed and injured so many and caused devastating destruction to the city.”

Cover thumbnail photo: Mohamed Azakir/Reuters

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