U.S. STRIKES SYRIA

U.K., France join in re­sponse to As­sad regime’s use last week of chem­i­cal weapons.

The Arizona Republic - - Front Page - Tom Van­den Brook, Gre­gory Korte and John Ba­con

“Rus­sia must de­cide if it will con­tinue down this dark path or if it will join with civ­i­lized na­tions as a force for sta­bil­ity and peace.” Pres­i­dent Trump

WASH­ING­TON — Pres­i­dent Trump said he or­dered pre­ci­sion mis­sile strikes against the regime of Syr­ian dic­ta­tor Bashar As­sad Fri­day night in a co­or­di­nated at­tack with U.K. and French al­lies.

Trump said the strikes were in­tended to de­ter the use of chem­i­cal weapons like the at­tack on civil­ians in the Syr­ian town of Douma last week, and that the U.S. was pre­pared to con­tinue the at­tacks un­til the Syr­ian regime stops us­ing chem­i­cal weapons.

The ac­tion comes al­most a week after rebels in the be­lea­guered na­tion claimed Syr­ian forces un­der As­sad killed more than 40 men, women and chil­dren in a chem­i­cal weapons at­tack in the Da­m­as­cus sub­urb of Douma.

“The evil and the de­spi­ca­ble at­tack left moth­ers and fa­thers, in­fants and

chil­dren writhing in pain and gasp­ing for air,” Trump said in a hastily ar­ranged, eight-minute na­tion­ally tele­vised ad­dress at 9:01 p.m.

Syria has de­nied us­ing chem­i­cal weapons. French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron said Thurs­day that “we have proof ” chlo­rine gas was used by As­sad’s regime. The in­ter­na­tion­ally re­spected Or­ga­ni­za­tion for the Pro­hi­bi­tion of Chem­i­cal Weapons was sched­uled to be­gin its own in­ves­ti­ga­tion on Satur­day.

Trump, in the days after the at­tack, de­scribed the Syr­ian pres­i­dent as “that an­i­mal As­sad” and ripped Rus­sia and Iran for sup­port­ing him. Trump was fur­ther ag­i­tated when a Rus­sian of­fi­cial promised that U.S. mis­siles would be shot down and the base or ships from which they were fired at­tacked.

“To Iran and to Rus­sia, I ask: What kind of a na­tion wants to be associated with the mass mur­der of men, women and chil­dren?” Trump said.

He ac­cused Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin of reneg­ing on a 2013 prom­ise to en­sure that As­sad would dis­con­tinue his chem­i­cal weapons pro­gram.

“Rus­sia must de­cide if it will con­tinue down this dark path or if it will join with civ­i­lized na­tions as a force for sta­bil­ity and peace,” he said.

Trump had tele­graphed the at­tack in a se­ries of state­ments and tweets through­out the week.

“Rus­sia vows to shoot down any and all mis­siles fired at Syria,” Trump re­sponded on Twit­ter. “Get ready Rus­sia, be­cause they will be com­ing, nice and new and ‘smart!’ You shouldn’t be part­ners with a Gas Killing An­i­mal!”

On Thurs­day, how­ever, Trump walked his re­marks back a bit, say­ing an at­tack “could be very soon or not so soon at all!”

Rus­sia has also de­nied the use chem­i­cal weapons in Syria, ac­cus­ing Bri­tain on Fri­day of stag­ing a fake at­tack in Douma. Rus­sian De­fense Min­istry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said im­ages of vic­tims of the pur­ported at­tack were staged with “Bri­tain’s di­rect in­volve­ment,” with­out pro­vid­ing ev­i­dence. Bri­tain’s am­bas­sador to the United Na­tions, Karen Pierce, dis­missed Konashenkov’s claim as “a bla­tant lie.”

De­fense Sec­re­tary Jim Mat­tis on Thurs­day re­peated a com­mon theme of the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion: The U.S. goal in Syria is to de­feat of the Is­lamic State while avoid­ing in­volve­ment in the bru­tal, seven-year civil war that has killed hun­dreds of thou­sands of peo­ple and driven mil­lions from their homes.

On Thurs­day af­ter­noon, Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May re­leased a state­ment say­ing her gov­ern­ment “agreed on the need to take ac­tion to al­le­vi­ate hu­man­i­tar­ian dis­tress and to de­ter the fur­ther use of chem­i­cal weapons by the As­sad regime.”

The Bri­tish, the state­ment said, will keep work­ing with the United States and France to de­ter­mine an in­ter­na­tional re­sponse.

The strate­gic aim of the U.S. re­sponse, a for­mer se­nior De­fense of­fi­cial fa­mil­iar with plan­ning for the at­tack said, was to raise the cost of us­ing weapons pro­hib­ited by in­ter­na­tional treaty and doubts in the minds of As­sad’s mil­i­tary of­fi­cers the next time he orders a sim­i­lar at­tack. The for­mer of­fi­cial spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity, lack­ing au­tho­riza­tion to speak pub­licly about plan­ning.

As­sad has re­peat­edly been ac­cused of us­ing chem­i­cal agents dur­ing the na­tion’s civil war. A sarin gas at­tack a year ago killed more than 80 peo­ple in the town of Khan Shaykhun, and two days later Trump au­tho­rized launch of dozens of cruise mis­siles on a Syr­ian air base.

Less than a month ago, Trump said he wanted to bring U.S troops home from Syria. The White House, how­ever, quickly sig­naled a U.S. with­drawal is not im­mi­nent. Still, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., chair­man of the Se­nate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee, said Trump’s “pre­ma­ture” dec­la­ra­tion em­bold­ened As­sad.

On Fri­day, Trump said he re­mained com­mit­ted to hav­ing other coun­tries step up so that U.S. troops can come home after de­feat­ing the Is­lamic State.

Pres­i­dent Trump ad­dresses the na­tion Fri­day night on the sit­u­a­tion in Syria. MAN­DEL NGAN/AFP/GETTY IM­AGES

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