President Donald Trump on Friday ordered “precision strikes” in conjunction with France and the United Kingdom against Syria in response to last week chemical weapons attack on Damascus suburb from President Bashar al-Assad regime.
“My fellow Americans, a short time ago, I ordered the United States Armed Forces to launch precision strikes on targets associated with the chemical weapons capabilities of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad,” Trump said in an unannounced address to the nation Friday night. “A combined operation with the armed forces of France and the United Kingdom is now underway.”
The action comes 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. Syria denied the attacks as the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons was scheduled to begin its own investigation in Syria on Saturday.
On Monday, Trump said his administration would decide in the next “24 to 48 hours” on a response. But an internal debate delayed action, with some in the administration urging caution against the strike.
However, the White House on Friday released evidence and reports of “significant body of information” that pointed to the use of chlorine gas and possibly also the deadly nerve agent sarin.
“This massacre was a significant escalation in a pattern of chemical weapons use by that very terrible regime,” Trump said. “The evil and the despicable attack left mothers and fathers, infants and children, thrashing in pain and gasping for air. These are not the actions of a man; they are crimes of a monster instead.”
During a nationally televised address at the White House, Trump said the purpose of the strikes was “to establish a strong deterrent against” Syria production and use of chemical weapons, calling it a “vital national security interest.”
The strikes by the three allies was the biggest intervention by Western countries against Assad and his superpower ally Russia, but all three countries said the strikes were aimed to prevent Syria’s future chemical weapons capabilities and not aimed at toppling Assad or intervening in the civil war.
“The combined American, British, and French responses to these atrocities will integrate all instruments of our national power — military, economic, and diplomatic,” Trump said. “We are prepared to sustain this response until the Syrian regime stops its use of prohibited chemical agents.”
Trump also specifically called out Iran and Russia for supporting the Syrian regime.
“I also have a message tonight for the two governments, most responsible for supporting, equipping, and financing the criminal Assad regime,” Trump said. “To Iran, and to Russia, I ask: What kind of a nation wants to be associated with the mass murder of innocent men, women, and children?”
Trump added, “President Putin and his government promised the world that they would guarantee the elimination of Syria’s chemical weapons. Assad’s recent attack and today’s response are the direct result of Russia’s failure to keep that promise. Russia must decide if it will continue down this dark path or if it will join with civilized nations as a force of stability and peace.”
Shortly after the announcement and the reported strikes, Russian President Vladmir Putin denounced the attack, calling it an “act of aggression against a sovereign state,” and the strike caused a “destructive influence on the entire system of international relations.”
At Russia’s request, the U.N. has called on the Security Council to hold an emergency meeting Saturday morning.
Syrian state TV said the army’s air defenses were responding to the attack. Air defenses hit 13 rockets south of Damascus, Syrian media reported.
“Good souls will not be humiliated,” Syria’s presidency tweeted after the air strikes began.
The Pentagon at a news conference after the president spoke called the strike a “clear message to Assad” aimed to deter the Syria regime from using chemical weapons. Last year, the Trump administration launched strikes on a Syrian airfield in retaliation for the use of chemical attack on the town of Khan Sheikhoun.
“Clearly, the Assad regime did not get the message last year,” Secretary of Defense James Mattis said. “This time, our allies and we have struck harder. Together, we have sent a clear message to Assad, and his murderous lieutenants, that they should not perpetrate another chemical weapons attack for which they will be held accountable.”
French President Emmanuel Macron, in a statement issued immediately after the strikes, said the “red line” France established in May 2017 “has been crossed.”
Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May announced she authorized her country’s forces to conduct “precision strikes” with America and France against Syria in the wake of the chemical attack that left dozens injured this week.
“This persistent pattern of behavior must be stopped — not just to protect innocent people in Syria from the horrific deaths and casualties caused by chemical weapons, but also because we cannot allow the erosion of the international norm that prevents the use of these weapons,” May said in a statement. “This is not about intervening in a civil war. It is not about regime change. It is about a limited and targeted strike that does not further escalate tensions in the region and that does everything possible to prevent civilian casualties.”
The United States, France and Britain launched 105 missiles overnight, targeting three chemical weapons facilities, including a research and development center in Damascus and two installations near Homs.