U.S. LAUNCHES MISSILE STRIKES IN SYRIA
The U.S. ‘launched precision strikes’ on targets associated with the Syrian chemical weapons program, President Donald Trump said late Friday, and is ‘prepared to sustain’ strikes until the use of chemical agents stops.
WASHINGTON — U.S. warships in the eastern Mediterranean have launched a fiery barrage of Tomahawk missiles at military targets in Syria to punish the Russian-backed government in Damascus for its alleged use of poison gas against civilians outside the capital last weekend, President Donald Trump announced.
Trump authorized the punitive attack against President Bashar Assad’s government and sought to cripple its chemical weapons facilities with what he called precision airstrikes. French and British forces joined the attack, Trump said in a televised address Friday night.
“We are prepared to sustain this response until the Syrian regime stops its use of prohibited chemical agents,” Trump said.
He promised that the United States would not maintain an indefinite presence in the wartorn region, but called on Russia and Iran, which he said are the chief enablers of the Syrian government, to relinquish their support.
“What kind of a nation wants to be associated with the mass murder of innocent men, women and children?” he said.
The predawn air assault Saturday raised concerns of a direct confrontation with Russia, which has an extensive network of ground-toair missiles in Syria, as well as hundreds of troops and warplanes, and threatened to shoot down any U.S. missiles or planes that it saw as a threat.
The Pentagon’s Central Command, which oversees U.S. military operations in the Middle East, made heavy use of a special communication channel with Russia’s armed forces, called a “deconfliction line,” in recent days to gain a better picture of where Russian forces are deployed in Syria and to reassure Moscow that any U.S. strike will target only Syrian military units, facilities and equipment involved in last Saturday’s attack.
Leaders in Britain, France and Saudi Arabia had pledged to support a strong response, and French warships armed with cruise missiles were near the Syrian coast. The Navy had at least two guided-missile destroyers in the eastern Mediterranean.
Trump’s Twitter posts and comments this week gave Syria time to move aircraft and troops out of likely target areas, and provided Moscow advance warning, making it more likely its advanced air defense batteries could succeed in shooting down U.S. cruise missiles or warplanes, complicating the Pentagon’s task of preparing a response.
It wasn’t clear whether the initial salvos presaged a broader, multiday air campaign against Syrian military command-and-control facilities, and their elaborate network of ground-to-air missile batteries, to clear the skies for allied bombers and other warplanes.
Casualties weren’t yet known. Syrian government troops had evacuated airports and primary military air bases in government-held areas in anticipation of a U.S. air attack, and reportedly moved some Syrian warplanes to Russian-controlled airfields for protection.
Fact-finding teams from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, an international watchdog agency based in The Hague, were expected to arrive in Douma on Saturday to collect evidence on the April 7 attack that left 43 people dead and wounded hundreds more.
U.S. officials said Syrian helicopters dropped gas-filled barrel bombs in Douma, a suburb east of Damascus. Photos and videos showed victims, including children, foaming at the mouth, choking and twitching in agony.
Local medics and rescue workers said some of the victims emitted an odor that suggested chlorine gas had been used. Others showed symptoms, including constriction of the pupils and convulsions, that suggested an illegal nerve agent such as sarin was mixed in.
The rebel-held town fell to Syrian forces after last week’s bombardment, and Russian troops also have entered the area. Thousands of rebels and civilian residents have been evacuated.
Trump had telegraphed the attack early Wednesday in a tweet that taunted Russia as well as Assad.
“Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria. Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and ‘smart!’ You shouldn’t be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!” Trump wrote.
Trump’s tweet followed a midlevel Russian diplomat’s claim that Russian President Vladimir Putin had authorized shooting down any U.S. missiles aimed at Syria. The Kremlin did not confirm the warning.
President Donald Trump addresses the nation from the White House on Friday. Trump said he had ordered strikes on Syrian targets, seeking to punish President Bashar Assad for a suspected chemical attack.