Scottish Daily Mail

Syria: The aftermath

- From Tom Leonard in New York

with it. He thought he knew Russia would have his back.’

Mrs Haley said that changed with the American strike: ‘When the internatio­nal community fails in its duty to act collective­ly there are times when states are compelled to take their own action.’

The attack marked a dramatic U-turn from the new US administra­tion. In the final days of last year’s election campaign, Mr Trump warned a ‘shooting war in Syria’ could bring the US into a conflict with Russia that could ‘very well lead to World War III’.

But in an emotive broadcast in the early hours of yesterday morning, Mr Trump said he was responding to the Syrian regime’s attack – believed to have involved sarin nerve agents – on the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun that left at least 72 people dead, including 20 children.

‘Using a deadly nerve agent, Assad choked out the lives of helpless men, women and children. It was a slow and brutal death for so many,’ he said.

‘Beautiful babies were cruelly murdered in this very barbaric attack. No child of God should ever suffer such horror.’

Downing Street was swift to back the action. At the UN, Britain came out in strong support of its ally ‘because war crimes have consequenc­es and the greatest war criminal of all, Bashar al Assad, has now been put on notice,’ said UK ambassador Matthew Rycroft.

‘The US strike was a proportion­ate response to unspeakabl­e acts that gave rise to overwhelmi­ng humanitari­an distress,’ he added. ‘It was also a strong effort to save lives, by ensuring such acts never happen again.’

Moscow compared the US action with the invasion of Iraq by American and British forces in 2003.

Russia’s envoy to the UN called the attack a ‘flagrant violation of internatio­nal law and an act of aggression’.

‘We strongly condemn the illegitima­te action by the US,’ said deputy ambassador Vladimir Safronkov. ‘The consequenc­es of this for regional and internatio­nal stability could be extremely serious.’

Russia won support from some quarters other than Syria. Bolivian ambassador Sacha Sergio Llorenti accused the US of being the ‘prosecutor, judge and jury’ in Syria.

Meanwhile, US officials are investigat­ing whether Russia colluded in Assad’s gas attack and in the subsequent bombing of a field hospital treating victims.

American media has reported that Russian aircraft might have been deployed to monitor the surviving victims of the initial attack.

Comment – Page 18

‘A slow and brutal death’

AMERICA was bitterly divided last night over Donald Trump’s dramatic U-turn on Syria.

Just 77 days into a presidency which he vowed would avoid foreign wars and ‘put America first’, Mr Trump ordered a missile attack that embroiled the US in the conflict.

It outraged many of his hardline supporters but earned applause in Congress from politician­s who had criticised Barack Obama for failing to act over Syria.

The attack began at 3.45am local time when 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles – each costing around £800,000 – started raining down on the Assad regime’s Shayrat airbase.

Guided by satellite, they fly at low altitude and follow the contours of the ground to avoid detection. The missiles – launched from two US Navy warships, the USS Ross and USS Porter, in the eastern Mediterran­ean – pounded the base for three to four minutes. Each was programmed with a specific target – including the control tower, radar installati­ons, fuelling stations and ammunition dumps.

Buildings thought to contain chemical weapons were deliberate­ly not hit, to avoid leaks of toxic gas. The US gave Russia 60 to 90 minutes’ warning and none of the estimated 100 Russian military personnel based there were hurt.

The dramatic strike reversed a policy of US isolation which helped Mr Trump into the White House. As his ultra-conservati­ve supporters deserted him for reneging on his pledge, he faced a US sharply split over the wisdom of becoming embroiled in the Syrian civil war.

Mr Trump has been warning for years that Syria was a quagmire whose vicious conflict the US should ignore. After Assad launched a devastatin­g chemical weapons attack on civilians in the rebel town of Ghouta in 2013, Mr Trump warned Mr Obama of ‘worldwide hell to pay’ and rocketing debts if he reacted with military action.

‘Again, to our very foolish leader, do not attack Syria,’ he wrote on Twitter. ‘If you do, many very bad things will happen & from that fight the US gets nothing!.’

Only days ago, he had insisted he was not ‘president of the world’ but of America, while the White House signalled it would be foolish to try to bring down Assad.

But Mr Trump, who has tried to stop Syrian refugees entering the US, said he had a change of heart after being moved by the regime’s ‘horrific’ chemical attack on innocent Syrian men, women, children and ‘beautiful little babies’.

It wrongfoote­d many US politician­s and pundits, who were yesterday wondering whether it was merely a one-off punishment for using chemical weapons or an entirely new strategy in Syria.

Can Assad – one of Russia’s few allies – expect the US to dramatical­ly step up its attempts to deal with him, they ask.

Mr Trump found himself in the unusual position of being applauded by his political opponents and castigated by his supporters. In Congress, he was clapped by Republican­s who had criticised Mr Obama for failing to punish Syria for previous chemical weapon attacks.

But they attacked the White House for suggesting this was a one-off response, warning that America’s internatio­nal standing would be badly damaged if Assad was able to portray himself in the Middle East as a leader who had withstood the might of the US.

High profile right-wing supporters accused Mr Trump of being rash and hypocritic­al. Some said they felt personally betrayed.

Veteran Republican senator John McCain said the strikes sent an important massage the ‘US won’t stand by as Assad, aided by Russia, slaughters innocent Syrians’.

But the controvers­ial editor of website AltRight.com, Richard Spencer, told how he felt ‘shocked and angry’.

In a video statement, he said: ‘No one voted for this, no one voted for Donald Trump in order for him to engage in these kinds of senseless, insane military interventi­ons. Millions of people, including myself, voted for Donald Trump, in large part because he was the right way to avoid these kinds of things, but here we are.’

Conservati­ve commentato­r Ann Coulter dismissive­ly tweeted: ‘Trump campaigned on not getting involved in Mideast. Said it always helps our enemies and creates more refugees. Then he saw a picture on TV.’

Even Ukip leader Paul Nuttall branded Trump’s actions ‘rash, trigger-happy and nonsensica­l’.

He added: ‘Assad or Isis is not a choice anyone would wish to make. But firing off missiles in an enraged response shows weakness not strength in the face of horror. I hoped for better from this administra­tion.’

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