The US fired more than 50 cruise missiles at a Syrian air field Thursday night in response to the brutal regime’s poison-gas attack on its own civilians this week.
President Trump authorized the strikes on the Shayrat airfield, which he said had been used by President Bashar al-Assad’s government to launch Tuesday’s sarin-gas bombing that killed 70 in a town in Idlib province.
“No child of God should ever suffer such horror,” Trump said about the gas attack during a televised speech from his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida Thursday night.
“Assad choked out the lives of helpless men, women and children. It was a slow and brutal death for so many.”
The barrage of Tomahawk missiles was fired from warships stationed in the Mediterranean Sea, the Pentagon said.
In his address, Trump said that the attack was in the nation’s “vital national security interest” and that the US must “prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons.”
“There can be no dispute that Syria used banned chemical weapons, violated its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention and ignored the urging of the UN Security Council,” Trump said.
The president had been highly critical of the prospect of taking military action in the region, but reportedly changed his mind when confronted with graphic photos of Syrian children killed and wounded by the sarin attack.
Although the US had taken part in air and missile attacks on ISIS in Syria, Thursday’s barrage was the first direct US assault on the Syrian government.
Syrian state TV called the attack an “aggression” and said that the missiles led “to losses,” without giving details.
Talal Barazi, the governor of Homs province, where the Shayrat air base is located, said the strike would “support the terrorists on the ground.” He added that while there was structural damage it appeared there were not many casualties.
“I believe — God willing — that the human casualties are not big,” Barazi told Reuters. “But there is material damage. We hope there are not many victims and martyrs.”
US military officials said the attack impacted Syria’s ability to carry out further chemical attacks on its people.
“We are assessing the results of the strike,” Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis said according to The New York Times. “Initial indications are that this strike has severely damaged or destroyed Syrian aircraft and support infrastructure and equipment at Shayrat Airfield.”
Officials said they took caution not to directly target storage units for the Sarin gases at the airbase.
Russian forces who are in the region were notified in advance of the strike, the Pentagon said.
The Russians have been actively involved helping Assad’s forces in the 6-year-old civil war, in which the Syrian leader is trying to hold power against groups of rebels and the forces of the terror group ISIS. Hundreds of thousands have died, leading to a massive refugee crisis.
President Vladimir Putin is a strong supporter of Assad and has resisted efforts to remove him.
The Shayrat airfield had no Russian planes, and no Russian facilities were targeted, The New York Times reported.
After the strike, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson blamed Russia for letting the Syrian atrocities occur, claiming it failed to carry out 2013 agreement to secure Syrian chemical weapons.
Tillerson added that Moscow was either complicit or incompetent in its ability to carry out agreement.
But a U.S. defense official described the strike as a “one-off” and Tillerson said it does not signal a change in their policy toward Syria.
“I would not in any way attempt to extrapolate that [the decision to bomb] to a change in our policy,” Tillerson said.
Congressional reaction to the Thursday’s strike was mixed, with some applauding Trump’s decisive action and others worrying about another conflagration in the Middle East.
“Making sure Assad knows that when he commits such despicable atrocities he will pay a price is the right thing to do,” Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer said.
Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina hailed the attack, while Republican Rand Paul of Kentucky blasted Trump,
“While we all condemn the atrocities in Syria, the United States was not attacked,” Paul tweeted. “The President needs Congressional authorization for military action as required by the Constitution.”
The attack came after Tillerson blamed Assad for the gas attack.
“There is no doubt in our minds, and the information we have supports that Syria, the Syria regime under the leadership of President Bashar al-Assad are responsible for this attack,” Tillerson said.
Putin’s spokesman said Thursday that the Kremlin’s support for Assad was not unconditional.
“Unconditional support is not possible in this current world,” Dmitry Peskov said.
But, he added, “It is not correct to say that Moscow can convince Mr. Assad to do whatever is wanted in Moscow. This is totally wrong.”
Before launching the strike Trump had blasted the chemical attack in Syria as “a disgrace to humanity.”
“What Assad did is terrible,” he said aboard Air Force One, while on his way to meet China’s President Xi Jinping in Florida. “What happened in Syria is truly one of the egregious crimes, and it shouldn’t have happened. And it shouldn’t be allowed to happen.”