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.

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Bob Dro­gin and David S. Cloud Tri­bune Wash­ing­ton Bureau

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.

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