PALM BEACH, Fla. >> The United States blasted a Syrian air base with a barrage of cruise missiles Thursday night in fiery retaliation for this week’s gruesome chemical weapons attack against civilians. President Donald Trump cast the U.S. assault as vital to deter future use of poison gas and called on other nations to join in seeking “to end the slaughter and bloodshed in Syria.”
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It was the first direct American assault on the Syrian government and Trump’s most dramatic military order since becoming president just over two months ago. The strikes also risk thrusting the U.S. deeper into an intractable conflict that his predecessor spent years trying to avoid.
Announcing the assault from his Florida resort, Trump said there was no doubt Syrian President Bashar Assad was responsible for the chemical attack, which he said employed banned gases and killed dozens.
“Assad choked out the lives of helpless men, women and children,” Trump declared.
The U.S. strikes —59 missiles launched from the USS Ross and USS Porter — hit the government-controlled Shayrat air base in central Syria, where U.S. officials say the Syrian military planes that dropped the chemicals had taken off. The U.S. missiles hit at 8:45 p.m. in Washington, 3:45 Friday morning in Syria. The missiles targeted the base’s airstrips, hangars, control tower and ammunition areas, officials said.
The attack killed some Syrians and wounded others, Talal Barazi, the governor of Syria’s Homs province, told The Associated Press. He didn’t give precise numbers.
SUPPORTERS OF U.S. ATTACK ON SYRIA
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OPPOSERS OF U.S. ATTACK ON SYRIA
Trump ordered the strikes without approval from Congress or the backing of the United Nations. U.S. officials said he had the right to use force to defend national interests and to protect civilians from atrocities.
Syrian state TV reported a U.S. missile attack on a number of military targets and called the attack an “aggression.”
The U.S. assault marked a striking reversal for Trump, who warned as a candidate against the U.S. being pulled into the Syrian civil war that began six years ago. But the president appeared moved by the photos of children killed in the chemical attack, calling it a “disgrace to humanity” that crossed “a lot of lines.”
U.S. officials placed some of the blame on Russia, one of Syria’s most important benefactors. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, in Florida with Trump, said Moscow had failed in living up to a 2013 agreement that was intended to strip Syria of its chemical weapons stockpiles.
“Either Russia has been complicit or Russia has been simply incompetent in its ability to deliver on its end of the agreement,” Tillerson said.
The U.S. Tomahawk missiles, fired from warships in the Mediterranean Sea, targeted an air base in retaliation for the attack that America believes Syrian government aircraft launched with the nerve agent sarin mixed with chlorine gas. The president did not announce the attacks in advance, though he and other national security officials ratcheted up their warnings to the Syrian government throughout the day Thursday.
The strike came as Trump was hosting Chinese President Xi Jinping in meetings focused in part on another pressing U.S. security dilemma: North Korea’s nuclear program. Trump’s actions in Syria could signal to China that the new president isn’t afraid of unilateral military steps, even if key nations like China are standing in the way.
“This clearly indicates the president is willing to take decisive action when called for,” Tillerson said.
Trump has advocated greater counterterrorism cooperation with Russia, Assad’s most powerful military backer. Just last week, the Trump administration signaled the U.S. was no longer interested in trying to push Assad from power over his direction of a conflict that has killed hundreds of thousands of people and led to the worst refugee crisis since World War II.
U.S. officials portrayed the strikes as an appropriate, measured response and said they did not signal a broader shift in the Trump administration’s approach to the Syrian conflict.
“The intent was to deter the regime from doing this again,” said Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, the Pentagon spokesman. “It will be the regime’s choice if there’s any more, and it will be based upon their conduct going forward.”
Still, the assault risks plunging America into the middle of Syria’s conflict, complicating the safety of the hundreds of U.S. forces fighting a separate campaign against the Islamic State group in the north of the country. If Assad’s military persists in further gas attacks, the Trump administration might logically pursue increased retaliation.
Russia and Iran, Assad’s allies, pose other problems. Russian military personnel and aircraft are embedded with Syria’s, and Iranian troops and paramilitary forces are also on the ground helping Assad fight the array of opposition groups hoping to topple him.
Before the strikes, U.S. military officials said they informed their Russian counterparts of the impending attack. The goal was to avoid any accident involving Russian forces.
Nevertheless, Russia’s Deputy U.N. ambassador Vladimir Safronkov warned that any negative consequences from the strikes would be on the “shoulders of those who initiated such a doubtful and tragic enterprise.”
The U.S. also notified its partner countries in the region prior to launching the strikes.
Trump’s decision to attack Syria came three-and-a-half years after President Barack Obama threatened Assad with military action after an earlier chemical weapons attack killed hundreds outside of Damascus. Obama had declared the use of such weapons a “red line.” At the time, several American ships in the Mediterranean were poised to launch missiles, only for Obama to abruptly pull back after key U.S. ally Britain and the U.S. Congress balked at his plan.
He opted instead for a Russian-backed plan that was supposed to remove and eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles.
Thursday night’s strikes were launched from the USS Ross and USS Porter and landed in the early morning Friday in Syria.
The world learned of the chemical attack earlier in the week in footage that showed people dying in the streets and bodies of children stacked in piles. The international outcry fueled an emotional response from Trump, who appeared to abandon his much-touted “America First” vision for a stance of humanitarian intervention, akin to that of previous American leaders. “I think what happened in Syria is a disgrace to humanity,” he said Thursday.
Trump seemed to rapidly reconsider his feelings about Assad, saying: “He’s there and I guess he’s running things, so something should happen.”
The show of force in Syria raises legal questions. It’s unclear what authority Trump is relying on to attack another government. When Obama intervened in Libya in 2011, he used a U.N. Security Council mandate and NATO’s overall leadership of the mission to argue that he had legal authority — arguments that many Republicans opposed. Trump can’t rely on either justification here.
Unclear also is whether Trump is adopting any broader effort to combat Assad. Under Obama, the United States largely pulled back from its support for so-called “moderate” rebels when Russia’s military intervention in September 2015 led them to suffer a series of battlefield defeats. Instead, Obama sought to work with Russia on a negotiated transition.
Trump and his top aides had acknowledged in recent days the “reality” of Assad being in power, saying his ouster was no longer a priority. But the chemical weapons attack seemed to spur a rethink. In Florida on Thursday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said of Assad: “There’s no role for him to govern the Syrian people.”
‘To prevent and deter’: Trump’s statement on Syria strike
My fellow Americans:
On Tuesday, Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad launched a horrible chemical weapons attack on innocent civilians. 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. Even beautiful babies were cruelly murdered in this very barbaric attack. No child of God should ever suffer such horror.
Tonight, I ordered a targeted military strike on the airfield in Syria from where the chemical attack was launched. It is in this vital national security interest of the United States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons. There can be no dispute that Syria used banned chemical weapons, violated its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention, and ignored the urging of the U.N. Security Council.
Years of previous attempts at changing Assad’s behavior have all failed, and failed very dramatically. As a result, the refugee crisis continues to deepen and the region continues to destabilize, threatening the United States and its allies.
Tonight, I call on all civilized nations to join us in seeking to end the slaughter and bloodshed in Syria, and also to end terrorism of all kinds and all types. We ask for God’s wisdom as we face the challenge of our very troubled world. We pray for the lives of the wounded and for the souls of those who have passed. And we hope that as long as America stands for justice, then peace and harmony will, in the end, prevail.
Goodnight. And God bless America and the entire world. Thank you.
BEIRUT >> Below is the latest on events in Syria (all times local):
Russia says it’s suspending a deal with the U.S. to prevent mid-air collisions over Syria in response to the U.S. strike on a Syrian air base.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said in Friday’s statement that Moscow is suspending a memorandum with the U.S. to prevent incidents and ensure flight safety.
Under the memorandum, signed after Russia launched an air campaign in Syria in September 2015, Russia and the U.S. had exchanged information about their flights to avoid incidents in the crowded skies over Syria.
Russia has several dozen warplanes and batteries of air-defense missiles at its base in Syria.
Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe expressed support for the U.S. missile attack on a Syrian government-controlled air base.
Abe on Friday said Japan understood and supported the U.S. strategy, saying the strikes were “a means to prevent further deterioration of the situation” referring to the suspected chemical attack earlier in Syria this week.
About 60 U.S. Tomahawk missiles hit the Shayrat air base, southeast of Homs, a small installation with two runways, where aircraft often take off to bomb targets in northern and central Syria.
Indonesia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs says it’s concerned by unilateral foreign actions in Syria including the U.S. attack on a Syrian government air base on Thursday night.
Ministry spokesman Arrmanatha Nasir said Indonesia rejects the use of chemical weapons for any purpose and condemns a chemical weapons attack in Syria earlier this week that killed dozens of civilians.
But it did not praise President Donald Trump’s retaliation against the government of Syria’s President Bashar Assad.
Nasir says, “We are also very concerned by unilateral actions that have been taken by many parties including the recent launch of Tomahawks in response to the use of chemical weapons.”
NATO’s chief was warned that the United States was to launch missile strikes in Syria and is making no comment on the incident.
Jens Stoltenberg’s office said Friday that “we can confirm that NATO Secretary-General was informed by the US Secretary of Defense prior to the strikes.”
But it said “we refer you to the US authorities regarding the strikes in Syria.”
Syrian military says the U.S. missile attack on one of its air bases in central Syria has killed six and caused extensive damage, calling it an aggression that undermines Damascus’ counter terrorism operations.
The statement read on TV Friday came hours after the U.S. sent nearly 60 Tomahawk missiles into the Shayrat air base, southeast of Homs, the first American attack against the Syrian army since the war started in 2011.
General Ali Ayyoub , the chief of the General Staff of the Syrian Army, said Washington has used the chemical attack in the northern town of Khan Sheikhoun earlier this week as a “pretext” to carry out the “blatant aggression” , without knowing what really happened. Syria blames the opposition fighters of stockpiling chemical weapons.
A communication link between the U.S. and Russia used to protect their pilots flying sorties over Syria was used ahead of an American missile strike on the country.
The so-called “deconfliction line” is operated by the U.S. military’s Central Command at the sprawling al-Udeid Air Base in Qatar. It serves as a crucial link to make sure the increasingly crowded Syrian airspace doesn’t see any accidental collisions or attacks on each other.
Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis says: “U.S. military planners took precautions to minimize risk to Russian or Syrian personnel located at the airfield” targeted in Syria’s Homs province. U.S. Central Command did not immediately respond to an Associated Press query on specifics of how the line was used.
About 60 U.S. Tomahawk missiles launched early Friday hit the Shayrat air base, southeast of the city of Homs, a small installation with two runways. The attack came in response for a chemical weapons attack Tuesday in Syria.
Turkey has welcomed the U.S. missile strike on Syria, saying it was an “important and meaningful” development but called for a continued tough stance against President Bashar Assad that would render him “no longer able to harm his people.”
Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus said in a live television interview Friday: “It is imperative that the Assad regime is fully punished by the international community.”
“We see the (air strikes) as positive, but we believe that this should be completed,” Kurtulmus said. “The Assad regime’s barbarism must immediately be stopped.”
Kurtulmus added that he hoped the U.S. action would help accelerate peace efforts in Syria.
Turkey is a strong opponent of Syrian President Bashar Assad and has backed the Syrian opposition fighting against him.
The Kremlin says President Vladimir Putin believes that the U.S. strike on a Syrian air base is an “aggression against a sovereign state in violation of international law.”
Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in Friday’s statement carried by Russian news agencies that Putin believes that the U.S. has dealt the strikes under “far-fetched pretext.”
Russia has argued that the death of civilians in the Syrian town of Khan Sheikhoun on Tuesday resulted from Syrian forces hitting a rebel chemical arsenal there.
Peskov said that the U.S. has ignored past incidents of the use of chemical weapons by Syrian rebels. He argued that the Syrian government has destroyed its chemical weapons stockpiles under international control.
A survivor of the chemical attack in a northern Syrian town says he hopes the U.S. missile attack could help put an end to Syrian government airstrikes, creating a safe area for civilians.
Alaa Alyousef, a 27-year old resident of Khan Sheikhoun, said Friday the U.S. missile attack “alleviates a small part of our sufferings,” but he worries it will be like “anesthetics,” to save face. AlYousef said the U.S. is capable of “paralyzing” Syrian warplanes .
“What good is a strike on Shayart air base alone while we have more than 15 other air bases,” he said. Alyousef lost at least 25 relatives in this week’s gruesome chemical attack in Khan Sheikhoun. The Syrian government denies it was behind the attack, believed to have deployed chemical weapons.
A Syrian official tells The Associated Press that the U.S. missile attack that hit military targets in central Syria has killed three soldiers and two civilians.
Talal Barazi, the governor of Homs province, said seven others were wounded in the early Friday attack. He had earlier said a fire raged in the air base in Homs for over an hour following the barrage of missiles.
A Syrian opposition monitor said the attack killed four soldiers, including a general.
The attack came in fiery retaliation for this week’s gruesome chemical weapons attack against civilians.
Iran has condemned the U.S. missile strike on Syria, saying the “unilateral action is dangerous, destructive and violates the principles of international law.”
That’s according to Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi. He made the comments in a report carried Friday by the semi-official ISNA news agency.
Iran is one of the biggest supporters of embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad. Its hard-line paramilitary Revolutionary Guard is deeply involved in the war. America’s Sunni Arab allies in the Gulf view Syria as a proxy conflict between it and Shiite power Iran.
Ghasemi described Iran as “the biggest victim of chemical weapons in recent history,” referencing Iraqi use of the weapons during its 1980s war with the Islamic Republic. He said Iran condemned the missile launch “regardless of the perpetrators and the victims” of Tuesday’s chemical weapons attack in Syria.
He also warned it would “strengthen terrorists” and further add to “the complexity of the situation in Syria and the region.”
Saudi Arabia is praising the “courageous decision” by U.S. President Donald Trump to launch missile strikes on Syria over a deadly chemical weapons attack.
A statement carried by the state-run Saudi Press Agency on Friday firmly blames the government of embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad for the chemical weapons attack.
The Saudi Foreign Ministry said the missile launch by Trump was the right response to “the crimes of this regime to its people in light of the failure of the international community to stop it.”
Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia is a longtime opponent of Assad and has supported the rebels fighting against him. It also views the long-running war as a proxy conflict between it and its Middle East archrival, the Shiite power Iran.
A senior Russian lawmaker says that U.S. strike on Syria likely has put an end to hopes for Russia-U.S. cooperation in Syria.
Konstantin Kosachev, the head of the foreign affairs committee in the Kremlin-controlled upper house of parliament said on his Facebook that the prospective U.S.-Russian anti-terror coalition has been “put to rest without even being born.”
Kosachev added that “it’s a pity,” suggesting that Trump had been pressured to act by the Pentagon.
He added that while “Russian cruise missiles strike the terrorists, U.S. missiles strike Syrian government forces who are spearheading the fight against the terrorists.”
A Syrian opposition monitor says the U.S. missile attack on an air base in the country’s center has killed at least four Syrian soldiers, including a general, and caused extensive damage.
The head of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the early Friday missile attack damaged over a dozen hangars, a fuel depot and an air defense base.
About 60 U.S. Tomahawk missiles hit the Shayrat air base, southeast of Homs, a small installation with two runways. A Syrian official the attack caused deaths and a fire, but didn’t elaborate.
The U.S. attack came in fiery retaliation to Tuesday’s deadly chemical attack that officials said used chlorine mixed with a nerve agent, possibly sarin. More than 80 were killed in that attack that drew wide international condemnation.
Israel’s ambassador to the U.N. says the U.S. sent a “significant message” to the region and beyond with the attack on a Syrian air base.
Danny Danon told Channel 10 TV “it was a moral decision that delivered a triple message.” He said it told the Syrians to stop using chemical weapons and sent a message to Iran and North Korea. He said it also told the international community that “if the U.N. is incapable of acting in these situations it will lead.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said earlier “this message of resolve in the face of the Assad regime’s horrific actions will resonate not only in Damascus, but in Tehran, Pyongyang and elsewhere.”
Israel’s military says it was notified ahead of the strike.
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull says the “Australian government strongly supports the swift and just response of the United States” in launching a rocket attack on a Syrian air base.
He tells reporters in Sydney on Friday: “This was a calibrated, proportionate and targeted response. It sends a strong message to the Assad regime, and … has been struck at the very airfield from which the chemical attack was delivered.”
“But we are not at war with the Assad regime and the United States have made it clear that they are not seeking to overthrow the Assad regime,” he added.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry says it is preparing a statement regarding U.S. strikes on a Syrian base.
Shortly before the strikes, the head of information policy commission in the upper house of Russian parliament, Alexei Pushkov, said on Twitter said that if Trump launches a military action in Syria it would put him in “the same league with Bush and Obama.”
Russian deputy envoy to the U.N., Vladimir Safronkov, said Russia had warned the U.S. to “think about what military actions have led to in Iraq, Libya and other countries,” according to the Interfax news agency.
A Syrian official tells The Associated Press that the U.S. missile attack that hit a number of military targets in central Syria has left a number of dead and wounded.
Talal Barazi, the governor of Homs province, didn’t say how many were killed in the early Friday attack. He said a fire raged in the air base in Homs for over an hour following the barrage of missiles.
Barazi says the evacuation and transfer of casualties is ongoing. He called the air base, which is about 45 kilometers (28 miles) east of the city of Homs, a “supporting base” for Syria’s fight against terrorism.
Islamic State group militants operate in the central Homs province. Activists and rebels say the base serves as one of the government’s most active launching pad for airstrikes on all rebel areas in central and northern Syria. Syria’s government calls all armed groups “terrorists.”
The attack came in fiery retaliation for this week’s gruesome chemical weapons attack against civilians.
Israel’s prime minister has welcomed the U.S. attack on a Syrian air base saying he “fully supports” President Trump’s decision.
Benjamin Netanyahu said Friday in a statement that “In both word and action” Trump “sent a strong and clear message” that “the use and spread of chemical weapons will not be tolerated.”
Israel’s Channel 2 TV said Israel along with other allies was notified about the U.S. strike.
The attacks in neighboring Syria have worried Israel, which has warned against “game-changing” weapons reaching Hezbollah in Lebanon from the country, which supports the militant group. Last month Israel shot down an anti-aircraft missile fired at its planes as they struck a suspected Hezbollah weapons convoy.
Israel also has treated several thousand Syrians wounded in fighting and provided humanitarian aid to some Syrian communities near the Israeli frontier in the Golan Heights.