The United States launched dozens of cruise missiles at a Syrian airfield early Friday in response to a chemical weapons attack that killed dozens of civilians, the first direct assault on the Damascus government since the beginning of that country’s bloody civil war in 2011.
It is in the vital national security interest of the United States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons,” President Donald Trump said in a statement. “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.”
At least 50 Tomahawk missiles targeted an airbase at Shayrat, located outside Homs. Trump said the base was used as the staging point for Tuesday’s chemical weapons attack on rebel-held territory, which killed as many as 72 civilians, including women and children.
“Assad choked out the lives of helpless men, women and children,” Trump said from Mar-a-Lago, Fla. “Even beautiful babies were cruelly murdered in this very barbaric attack. No child of God should ever suffer such horror.”
The use of Tomahawk missiles meant that the strikes did not target air defense systems manned by Russian troops. The Assad regime is strongly backed by Russia and Iran.
U.S. defense officials tell Fox that two warships based in the eastern Mediterranean, the USS Porter and the USS Ross, have been training for the past two days to execute this mission.
“Our forward deployed ships give us the capability to quickly respond to threats,” said a Navy official. “These strikes in Syria are a perfect example – this is why we’re there.”
The original plans called for two targets, the airbase and a chemical weapons storage facility. However, Pentagon planners decided late Thursday to target just the airbase.
Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., expressed support for the strike, saying in a joint statement that “the United States will no longer stand idly by as Assad, aided and abetted by Putin’s Russia, slaughters innocent Syrians with chemical weapons and barrel bombs.”
President Donald Trump 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.
“I think what happened in Syria is one of the truly egregious crimes and shouldn’t have happened and it shouldn’t be allowed to happen,” Trump told reporters traveling on Air Force One to Florida, where he was holding a two-day summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Late Thursday, a U.S. government official told Fox News that the intelligence community has high confidence that the attack was carried out by Syrian government aircraft. The official said the analysis was consistent with eyewitness reports that fixed-wing aircraft launched the strike.
The official described the use of sarin gas in the attack as a watershed. Under the Obama administration, the Assad government had agreed to disband its chemical weapons capability by 2014 under an agreement coordinated with the U.S. and Russia. Tuesday’s attack, on its face, is a breach of that agreement.
The Turkish ministry of health says the preliminary results show the use of sarin gas. Sarin is a colorless, odorless liquid and is highly volatile moving easily from liquid to a gas, that unlike chlorine which the Assad government has used on a regular basis, does not dissipate quickly. This explains the high number of fatalities. The victims in Syria and Turkey show all the hallmarks of a sarin attack – including twitching, jerking and foaming at the mouth.