Trump announces strikes on Syria following suspected chemical weapons attack by Assad forces

Damascus sky lights up with surface to air missile fire as the U.S. launches an attack on Syria targeting different parts of the Syrian capital Damascus, Syria, early Saturday, April 14, 2018. (Hassan Ammar / AP)

 

The president did not specify a target for the strikes, but said the United States would aim to hit sites “associated with the chemical weapons capabilities” of Assad’s regime.

President Donald Trump on Friday ordered the United States military — in conjunction with France and the United Kingdom — to launch strikes on Syria in retaliation for a suspected chemical weapons attack by the regime of President Bashar al-Assad on a Damascus suburb last week.

The president did not specify a target for the strikes, but said the United States would aim to hit sites “associated with the chemical weapons capabilities” of Assad’s regime.

“We are prepared to sustain this response until the Syrian regime stops its use of prohibited chemical agents,” Trump said in remarks from the White House, adding that the U.S. and its allies had “marshaled their righteous power.”

Trump urged Iran and Russia to withdraw their support for what he called Syria’s “barbarism and brutality.”

In a direct address to the two countries, he asked: “What kind of a nation wants to be associated with the mass murder of innocent men and women and children?”

Defense Secretary James Mattis described the strikes as larger than the one the Trump administration carried out a year ago at a press conference at the Pentagon later on Friday.

“Clearly the Assad regime did not get the message last year,” Mattis said. “This time with our allies, we have struck harder. Together we have sent a clear message to Assad and his murderous lieutenants that they should not perpetrate another chemical weapons attack.”

General Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the U.S. and its partners launched the attack at 9 p.m. ET and struck multiple targets associated with Syria’s chemical weapons program. Those targets included a scientific research center located in Damascus, a chemical weapons storage facility near Homs, Syria and a chemical weapons equipment and military outpost close to the second target.

Dunford explained that the U.S. identified the targets to mitigate collateral damage, civilian casualties and “the risk of Russian forces being involved.”

The risk of the latter was diminished, Dunford said, by using “normal deconflictions channels to deconflict the airspace that we were using,” which he said were used routinely with Russia and other international parties. He also said that the U.S. had noticed surface to air missile activity from the Assad regime.

There would be further details in the morning, Mattis and Dunford said.

Meanwhile In Syria, explosions were being heard to the east, west and south of Damascus, and witnesses saw blasts surrounding much of the Syrian capital and a huge fire could be seen from a distance to the east. An AP reporter in Damascus said the attacks turned the sky orange.

The British Armed Forces said they scrambled four Royal Air Force Tornado GR4s to launch Storm Shadow missiles at a missile facility where the Syrian regime is believed to be storing chemical weapons.

“The speed with which we are acting is essential in co-operating with our partners to alleviate further humanitarian suffering and to maintain the vital security of our operations,” U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May said in a statement. “This is the first time as prime minister that I have had to take the decision to commit our armed forces in combat — and it is not a decision I have taken lightly.”

French President Emmanuel Macron agreed with May’s sentiment and said “the red line set by France in May 2017 has been crossed.”

“We can not tolerate the trivialization of the use of chemical weapons, which is an immediate danger for the Syrian people and for our collective security,” he added.

The suspected nerve agent attack in the city of Douma in eastern Ghouta on April 7 killed dozens of people, including children, local activists have told NBC News. Syria and Russia have denied any involvement in the alleged attack.

Upwards of 500,000 people are thought to have died in the seven-year Syria civil war, a conflict that has also driven millions from their homes. The war has sucked in a number of actors — including Russia, Iran and Iran-backed Lebanese militia Hezbollah on the side of Assad.

Russia’s 2015 decision to enter the conflict, backing Assad, turned the tide of the war and helped government forces recapture much of the territory held by rebels.

Trump has both in the past and recently expressed eagerness to get all American troops out of Syria — but he described the latest alleged attack as “mindless” in a series of tweets last weekend. And in an unusual criticism of Russia’s president, he said “Putin, Russia and Iran are responsible for backing Animal Assad. Big price to pay.”

Russia responded quickly to Friday’s attack shortly after the strikes were reported.

“Again, we are being threatened,” said Russia’s ambassador to the U.S., Anatoly Antonov. “We warned that such actions will not be left without consequences. All responsibility for them rests with Washington, London and Paris. Insulting the president of Russia is unacceptable and inadmissible. The U.S. — the possessor of the biggest arsenal of chemical weapons — has no moral right to blame other countries.”

Trump had previously shared his desire for a rapid withdrawal drew unanimous opposition from the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Pentagon, the State Department and the intelligence community, who’ve argued that keeping the 2,000 U.S. soldiers currently in Syria is key to ensuring that the ISIS terror group does not make a comeback.

The president on Monday had condemned the suspected chemical attack, calling it a “heinous” act and saying his administration would soon make “major decisions” on how to respond.

Last year, Trump said that the use of chemical weapons in Syria “crosses a lot of lines for me.”

On April 6, 2017, the Trump administration launched strikes on a Syrian-government airfield in retaliation for a chemical attack on the town of Khan Sheikhoun.

Full article: Trump announces strikes on Syria following suspected chemical weapons attack by Assad forces (NBC)

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