U.S., ALLIES HIT SYRIA FOR CHEMICAL ATTACK
Aim is to deter Assad regime’s use of such weapons on his nation’s civilians
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
“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.”
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.