WASHINGTON -- The United States, France and Britain together launched military strikes in Syria to punish President Bashar Assad for a suspected chemical attack against civilians and to deter him from doing it again, President Donald Trump announced Friday. Explosions lit up the skies over Damascus, the Syrian capital, as President Trump announced the airstrikes from the White House.
Syrian television reported that Syrian air defenses have responded to the attack.
President Trump said the U.S. is prepared to "sustain" pressure on Assad until he ends what the president called a criminal pattern of killing his own people with internationally banned chemical weapons. It was not immediately clear whether President Trump meant the allied military operation would extend beyond an initial nighttime round of missile strikes.
President Trump did not provide details on the joint U.S.-British-French attack, but it was expected to include barrages of cruise missiles launched from outside Syrian airspace. He described the main aim as establishing "a strong deterrent" against chemical weapons use. The Syrian government has repeatedly denied any use of banned weapons.
The decision to strike, after days of deliberations, marked President Trump's second order to attack Syria; he authorized a barrage of Tomahawk cruise missiles to hit a single Syrian airfield in April 2017 in retaliation for Assad's use of sarin gas against civilians.
President Trump chastised Syria's two main allies, Russia and Iran, for their roles in supporting "murderous dictators," and noted that Russian President Vladimir Putin had guaranteed a 2013 international agreement for Assad to get rid of all of his chemical weapons. He called on Moscow to change course and join the West in seeking a more responsible regime in Damascus.
The allied operation comes a year after the U.S. missile strike that President Trump said was meant to deter Assad from further use of chemical weapons. Since that did not work, a more intense attack would aim to degrade his ability to carry out further such attacks, and would try to do this by hitting Syrian aircraft, military depots and chemical facilities, among other things.
The one-off missile strike in April 2017 targeted the airfield from which the Syrian aircraft had launched their gas attack. But the damage was limited, and a defiant Assad returned to episodic use of chlorine and perhaps other chemicals.
A broader question is whether the allied attacks are part of a revamped, coherent political strategy to end the war on terms that do not leave Assad in power.
Statement by Secretary James N. Mattis on Syria
Good evening. As the world knows, the Syrian people have suffered terribly under the prolonged brutality of the Assad regime.
On April 7th, the regime decided to again defy the norms of civilized people, showing callous disregard for international law by using chemical weapons to murder women, children and other innocents. We and our allies find these atrocities inexcusable.
As our commander in chief, the president has the authority under Article II of the Constitution to use military force overseas to defend important U.S. national interests. The United States has an important national interest in averting a worsening humanitarian catastrophe in Syria, and specifically deterring the use and proliferation of chemical weapons.
Last year, in response to a chemical weapons attack against civilians and to signal the regime to cease chemical weapons use, we targeted the military base from which the weapons were delivered.
Earlier today, President Trump directed the U.S. military to conduct operations, in consonance with our allies, to destroy the Syrian regime's chemical weapons research, development and production capabilities.
Tonight, France, the United Kingdom and the United States took decisive action to strike the Syrian chemical weapons infrastructure.
Clearly, the Assad regime did not get the message last year. 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.
The 70 nations in the defeat ISIS coalition remain committed to defeating ISIS in Syria. The strike tonight separately demonstrates international resolve to prevent chemical weapons from being used on anyone, under any circumstance, in contravention of international law.
I want to emphasize that these strikes are directed at the Syrian regime. In conducting these strikes, we have gone to great lengths to avoid civilian and foreign casualties.
But it is time for all civilized nations to urgently unite in ending the Syrian civil war by supporting the United Nations backed Geneva peace process.
In accordance with the chemical weapons convention prohibiting the use of such weapons, we urge responsible nations to condemn the Assad regime and join us in our firm resolve to prevent chemical weapons from being used again.
General Dunford will provide a military update.
Based on recent experience, we fully expect a significant disinformation campaign over the coming days by those who have aligned themselves with the Assad regime. In an effort to maintain transparency and accuracy, my assistant for public affairs, Dana White, and Lt. Gen. McKenzie, director of the Joint Staff, will provide a brief of known details tomorrow at 9:00 a.m.