Andrea Mitchell   |  August 26, 2013

UN team shot at by unknown snipers

After stonewalling for almost a week, Syrian President Assad permitted the U.N. inspection team to get to the site of the suspected chemical attack although one of their vehicles was damaged by taking fire from unidentified snipers. NBC’s Richard Engel reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> nbc news chief foreign correspondent richard engel was in syria today talking to residents fearful of the next attack. joining me from the border area in turkey, thanks so much, richard. i don't know if you were able to hear chris hill but he is pointing out the kind of limited retaliatory or punishment attacks being envisioned, cruise missiles or fighter jets launching weapons from outside the air space , are not going to be game changers. this is not going to help the rebels get back any advantage on the ground. but it is punitive because of the presumption now, the assumption by american intelligence, that this was a chemical attack and it did come from the regime. what did you find when you crossed the border and talked to people about their fears?

>> first of all, i did hear the interview and it is amazing that we are actually talking about an apparently confirmed use by the syrian government of chemical weapons on a massive scale. let's not forget those pictures. we're talking about hundreds of people, the rebels say well over a thousand who were killed in a series of chemical attacks on the outskirts of damascus . whether there will be a punitive strike and it is not going to be game changing event, i think it's hard to know where the line is between punitive reaction and the transformative reaction because once the americans start bombing, assuming that happens, and other countries would be parse participating as well we would assume, the rebels will go on the offensive. they are not going to sit back and watch this happen. all of the different factions and there are many factions are going to take advantage of this momentum and launch an assault. i think there's three possible outcomes. one, the momentum is such that the regime does actually start to crumble and we see not necessarily the libya model where people were morning into baghdad and overthrew the regime and raised a new flag, but kind of a breakup of the state. state collapse where you have chunks of the country that are falling under different control and the state authority is diminished. that's one possibility. that's the possibility the rebels are more or less hoping for and i think long term you will see problems in this country if you have different cantons led by different factions. the second possibility is the rebels are overexcited. they see this attack, they make an offensive against damascus and other cities and you have an iraq 1991 skep nare yo where the people rise up and thens wave of the government's counter offensive falls down on their heads and you have many, many dead people because they were -- they had false expectations. and the third possibility is this is simply a symbolic strike, a punitive action, very limited in scale, from the united states . the u.s. sends a message kind of a legal message and nothing happens on the ground.

>> i mean, that reminds me of the kind of cruise missile strikes that went into afghanistan after the attacks on our embassies on 1998 which really were meaningless, supposedly going after bin laden but didn't have any effect. that could be a worse effect or outcome not only for the people on the ground but also importantly for u.s. credibility, which has been severely damaged, has it not, by letting this go on, by permitting a long lag time after the first suspected chemical attack and taking so long to try to establish what happened six or seven days ago.

>> if -- we spoke to rebels . they say if nothing is done, or something so minor is done that it has no affect, that ts's a couple cruise missile strikes against empty buildings and the war continues, pretty much unchanged from this moment forward, that bashar al assad will think he survived it, got away with it, and free to do this kind of attack again. going back to what we said initially, this is the first or appears to be the first more or less confirmed case of chemical weapons being used against civilians on a massive scale in decades and if he gets away with it, that would certainly be harmful for american opinion or the opinion of americans in syria and potentially globally as well.

>> and i know that we've got a big lag, the satellite lag there, so everyone bear with us, i did want to follow up and ask you how well are the rebels equipped because the american supply line has not really materialized and how well are they trained to deal with these weapons? they've been supplied by the saudis and the uae, but the american weapons, were very slow in coming?

>> they are not well equipped to deal with chemical attacks. we went to a field hospital today and it was in a relatively safe area , an area that is more or less -- i keep using these terms -- under rebel control, and we saw they had built a small hangar outside of the field hospital to deal with any potential chemical weapons casualties. it was very sad to look at. it was a small shed like the thing you might put in your yard to have extra tools in. it had a hose so people would come in, they would be hosed down outside of the hospital so they wouldn't be contaminating other patients. they had a gas mask or two for the medical personnel to wear. they had some viles of atropine. one box which is a antidote for nerve agent or at least treatment for nerve agent . doctors say they're trying to get atropine to these areas outside damascus that were affected by these mass attacks last week and they don't have the ability to even get supplies to the affected areas because there's so many checkpoints on the road. the rebels don't control contiguous territory so in many cases they are hand carrying in boxes of atropine and other medical supplies. they have to smuggle them around their own country. they are not well prepared to deal with this.

>> thank you so much for your reporting from the scene . thanks again for being with us today.