President Donald Trump on Friday night announced that he has approved military strikes in Syria against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The decision follows a suspected chemical gas attack from the Assad regime on a rebel-held town near the Syrian capital last weekend.
The United States launched the response, along with assurance from France and the United Kingdom, Trump stated from the White House about 9 p.m. EDT.
“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 from the White House. “A combined operation with the armed forces of France and the United Kingdom is now under way. We thank them both.”
French President Emmanuel Macron said the operation was targeting the “clandestine chemical arsenal” in Syria.
British Prime Minister Theresa May also issued a statement.
“This evening I have authorized British armed forces to conduct coordinated and targeted strikes to degrade the Syrian Regime’s chemical weapons capability and deter their use,” May said.
Trump’s announcement immediately preceded reports of loud explosions lighting up the sky in Damascus, the Syrian capital.
Syrian TV reported that Syrian air defenses responded to the U.S.-British-French attack. There have been multiple strikes against at least two sites, Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said late Friday from the Pentagon.
“Important infrastructure was destroyed,” Dunford said, noting that sites associated with the Syrian chemical weapons program were both “targeted and destroyed.”
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.
But Defense Secretary Jim Mattis labeled the strikes “right now” as being “a one-time shot,” adding that no additional attacks are currently planned.
At least 40 people died in the chemical attack in Douma last Saturday, about 10 miles east of Damascus, and over 500 people, mostly women and children, were injured and brought to medical centers. The attack occurred amid a resumed offensive by Syrian government forces after the collapse of a truce. Syrian activists, rescuers and medics said families suffocated in their homes.
Assad’s actions, Trump said, “are not the actions of a man,” but “are the crimes of a monster instead.”
A similar chemical attack in Khan Sheikhoun in April 2017 that killed nearly 100 people prompted the U.S. to launch dozens of cruise missiles at a Syrian airfield to dissuade Assad from using chemical weapons in the future, officials said. But during the weekend, images of dead and sick women and children again circulated following another alleged chemical attack.
“Clearly the Assad regime did not get the message last year,” Mattis said.
“The purpose of our actions tonight is to establish a strong deterrent against the production, spread and use of chemical weapons,” Trump said. “Establishing this deterrent is a vital national security interest of the United States. The combined American, British and French response to these atrocities will integrate all instruments of our national power. Military, economic and diplomatic.
“We are prepared to sustain this response until the Syrian regime stops its use of prohibited chemical agents,” Trump continued. “I also have a message tonight for the two governments most responsible for supporting, equipping, and financing the criminal Assad regime.”
In his statement, the president also hit Russia and Iran for their sustained support of the Assad regime.
“To Iran and to Russia I ask, what kind of nation wants to be associated with the mass murder of innocent men, women and children,” Trump said.
“The nations of the world can be judged by the friends that they keep,” he continued. “Russia must decide if it will continue down this dark path or continue with civilized nations.”
Russia responded Friday to Trump’s action.
“A pre-designed scenario is being implemented. Again, we are being threatened,” Anatoly Antonov, Russia’s ambassador to the U.S., wrote in a highly charged tweet. “We warned that such actions will not be left without consequences. All responsibility for them rests with Washington, London and Paris.”
“The nations of the world can be judged by the friends they keep,” Trump said when announcing the strikes. “Hopefully, someday we’ll get along with Russia, and maybe even Iran, but maybe not.”
Fox News’ Ben Evansky, Alex Pappas and the Associated Press contributed to this report.
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