The United States, Britain and France launched a series of missile attacks on Syria Friday night in retaliation for the Middle Eastern country’s recent deadly chemical attack on its own people.
“A combined operation with the armed forces of France and the United Kingdom is now underway. We thank them both,” the President said in a televised national address.
Explosions lit up the sky and could be heard in and around Damascus moments after the strikes were announced.
The barrage of 120 Tomahawk missiles targeted chemical weapons plants outside the country’s capital city.
“The purpose of our actions tonight is to establish a strong deterrent against the production, spread and use of chemical weapons,” Trump said. “Establishing this deterrent is a vital interest of the United States. The combined response to these atrocities will integrate all instruments of our power economic, and diplomatic.”
The President threatened to attack in the days following a gas assault against the town of Douma, one of the last rebel strongholds in Eastern Ghouta. Opposition activists blamed Syrian President Bashar Assad, claiming government helicopters on April 7 dropped barrel bombs filled with deadly chemicals on unsuspecting civilians.
“These are not the actions of a man. They are crimes of a monster instead,” the President said. “Following the horrors of World War I a century ago, civilized nations joined together to ban chemical warfare. Chemical weapons are uniquely dangerous not only because they inflict suffering but because even small amounts will unleash widespread devastation.”
The military action could draw the U.S. into the multisided Syrian civil war, battling not only Assad, but his allies.
Trump also leveled a strong rebuke at Iranian and Russian governments, which support Assad.
“I also have a message tonight for two governments most responsible for supporting, equipping and financing the criminal Assad regime,” the President said. “To Iran and to Russia, I ask, what kind of a nation wants to be associated with the mass murder of innocent men, women and children? The nations of the world can be judged by the friends they keep. No nation can succeed in the long run by promoting brutal tyrants and murderous dictators.”
The April chemical attack in Douma killed at least 40 people, some of them children.
Syrian and Russian government officials have denied responsibility, but Trump still put them on notice a day after the attack and continued with online warnings throughout the week.
Britain Prime Minister Theresa May announced her country’s support and participation.
“This persistent pattern of behavior must be stopped — not just to protect innocent people in Syria from the horrific deaths and casualties caused by chemical weapons but also because we cannot allow the erosion of the international norm that prevents the use of these weapons,” she said. “But our efforts have been repeatedly thwarted. Even this week the Russians vetoed a Resolution at the UN Security Council, which would have established an independent investigation into the Douma attack.”
French President Emmanuel Macron said that the military operation targeted Syria’s “clandestine chemical arsenal.”
The President posted warnings of swift retaliation in the weeks after the attacks, but the plan came into focus on Friday when 12 U.S. Navy ships were moved into the region.
The missiles hit in the predawn hours outside Damascus, lighting up the sky and sending up heavy columns of smoke. Explosions could be heard in the east, south and west outside the city.
Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that the missile strikes were aimed at taking out the poison gas factories.
“This evening we conducted strikes with two allies on multiple sites that will result in the long-term degradation of the Syrian capability to research and develop and employ chemical and biological weapons,” he said at the Pentagon.
“The strike was not only a strong message to the regime that their actions were inexcusable, but it also inflicted maximum damage without unnecessary risk to innocent civilians.”
The first bombs fell on a scientific research center in the greater Damascus area that Dunford said was used for chemical and biological warfare. The second volley targeted a chemical weapons storage facility west of Homs.
“We assess this is the primary location of sarin and precursor production equipment,” according to the general.
Close by, a third strike hit a chemical weapons equipment storage facility and an important command post.
Syrian media claimed that 13 missiles had been shot out of the sky.
“Good souls will not be humiliated,” Assad posted on Twitter.
(Graphic): Dozens killed after suspected poison gas attack in Syria
The Russian government was defiant in the face of the coordinated military operation.
“Again, we are being threatened,” Russia’s ambassador to the U.S., Anatoly Antonov, said in a statement. “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.”
A Russian diplomat also claimed that the missiles were thwarted by surface-to-air missiles.
“Russia will execute the statement of its president related to any U.S. aggression against Syria, knocking down American missiles and striking at the sources of fire,” Alexander Zasypkin, Russia’s ambassador to Lebanon, told the Lebanese television channel Al-Manar.
No casualties were reported Friday night.
The action prompted outrage from Democratic members of Congress who were not told in advance, but some Republican leaders feel differently.
“I applaud the President for taking military action against the Assad regime, and I am grateful to our British and French allies for joining us in this action. To succeed in the long run, we need a comprehensive strategy for Syria and the region,” Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) said in statement.
The missile strike marks the second time the United States has retaliated against the country’s use of deadly chemical weapons since Trump took up residence in the White House.
The U.S. military on April 7, 2017, aimed more than 50 missiles at a Syrian airfield — the source of a chemical attack launched days earlier.
More than 80 people, including 30 children and 20 women, were killed in the nerve-gas attack in Khan Sheikhoun, located in the rebel-held province of Idlib.
The Republican President’s response was a noted shift in policy and the first direct U.S. attack on the Syrian government since the civil war unfolded in 2011.
More than 500,000 people have died in the years-long uprising, with millions more fleeing to find safety in Europe and beyond.
The NYPD was placed on high alert in the city and working with intelligence agencies abroad, according to the Deputy Commissioner of Public Information Phillip Walzak.
“The NYPD is working with our intelligence bureau liaisons stationed abroad as well as our federal partners, and closely monitoring the U.S. military action in Syria. There is no nexus to New York City, nor are there any credible threats to New York City at this time. Counterterror officers have been deployed in and around the City out of an abundance of caution.”
Secretary of Defense James Mattis said there is no immediate plan for more missile strikes, but added that he’s not ruling out further attacks.
Unlike last year’s strike, the President suggested that this might not be the last attack on Syria.
“We are prepared to sustain this response until the Syrian regime stops its use of prohibited chemical agents. No nation can succeed in the long run by promoting brutal tyrants and murderous dictators,” the President said.
With NEWS WIRE SERVICES
Send a Letter to the Editor
JESSICA SCHLADEBECK, CHRIS SOMMERFELDT, JANON FISHER