Trump orders military strikes on Syria in response to suspected chemical weapons attack
Fri., April 13, 2018
WASHINGTONâ"The United States and European allies launched strikes against Syrian targets, President Donald Trump announced Friday, seeking to punish President Bashar Assad for a suspected chemical attack near Damascus last weekend that killed more than 40 people.
Trump said Britain and France had joined the United States in the strikes, which he said were underway. Canada had previously ruled out any Canadian participation.
âThese are not the actions of a man. They are crimes of a monster instead,â Trump, in a televised nighttime address from the White House Diplomatic Room, said of t he chemical attacks that he blamed on Assad.
He said the allied strikes of precision weapons sought to deter the production, spread and use of chemical weapons as âa vital national security interest of the United States.â
âWe are prepared to sustain this response until the Syrian regime stops its use of prohibited chemical agents,â Trump said.Article Continued Below
âTo 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?â he said. âThe nations of the world can be judged by the friends they keep.â
The strikes risked pulling the United States deeper into the complex, multisided war in Syria from which Trump only last week said he wanted to withdraw. They also raised the possibility of confrontation with Russia and Iran, both of which have military forces in Syria to support Assad.
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In an official statement, British Prime Minister Theresa May said British armed forces conducted their strikes âto degrade the Syrian regimeâs chemical weapons capability and deter their use.â The statement claimed non-violent methods to stop the use of chemical weapons in Syria had been thwarted, cited a Russian veto of a UN resolution this week to establish an independent investigation into the Douma attack.
May insisted the strike does not signify Britianâs entry into the Syrian conflict.
âThis 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,â the statement reads.
French President Emmanuel Macron said in a statement that the strikes targeted the Syrian governmentâs âc hemical weapons capacity.â France, he said, âcannot tolerate normalization of chemical weaponsâ in the country.
The Tomahawk missiles, launched from U.S. warships in the eastern Mediterranean, struck Syria shortly after 4 a.m. local time Saturday.
Syria said its air defences, which are substantial, were âconfronting the U.S.-French-British aggression,â according to the state-run SANA news agency. Syriaâs Observatory for Human Rights, a group monitoring the conflict, reported that the strikes targeted several military bases, Republican Guards locations and the Scientific Studies Research Centre.
One of the strikes targeted a research facility in the greater Damascus area that the Pentagon said was used to research and produce chemical weapons. The other two strikes targeted a chemical weapons storage facility and a combined storage facility and command centre, both located near the Syrian city of Homs, said Gen. Joseph Dunford, U.S. joint chiefs of st aff.
âWe did not do any co-ordination with the Russians on the strikes, nor did we pre-notify them,â Dunford said.
âWe have gone to great lengths to avoid civilian and foreign casualties,â said James Mattis, the U.S. secretary of defence. âClearly, the Assad regime did not get the message last year,â he said, referring to last yearâs chemical weapons attack.
Casualties from Saturday morningâs attack werenât yet known. Syrian government troops had evacuated airports and primary military air bases in government-held areas in anticipation of a U.S. air attack, and reportedly moved some Syrian warplanes to Russian-controlled airfields for protection.
A fact-finding mission from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons was to begin investigating the incident on Saturday in Douma, which had been held by rebels before the suspected attack. The missionâs job was only to determine whether chemical weapons had been used, not who had used them.
Medical and rescue groups have reported that the Syrian military dropped bombs that released chemical substances during an offensive to take the town. A New York Times review of videos of the attackâs aftermath, and interviews with residents and medical workers, suggested that Syrian government helicopters dropped canisters giving off some sort of chemical compound that suffocated at least 43 people.
Syria has denied using banned chemical weapons in a war that has killed more than 500,000 people and displaced half of the prewar population of 23 million. Its official Sana news agency scoffed at the reports that chemical weapons had been used in Douma, citing an unidentified official who said government forces advancing on the town didnât âneed to use any chemical weapons as the media channels that support the terrorists are fabricating.â
Russia has variously said there was no chemical attack in Douma or that the U.S. and its allies orchestrated i t to undermine Assad. âThe footage that was shown was clearly staged,â Russiaâs Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia told the United Nations Security Council.
Some U.S. Democrats criticized Trumpâs decision, saying the launch was reckless and conducted without congressional approval.
In the seven years since the beginning of Syriaâs civil war, the casualties have grown from the first handful of protesters shot by government forces to hundreds of thousands of dead. But as the war has dragged on, growing more diffuse and complex, many international monitoring groups have essentially stopped counting.
Even the United Nations, which released regular reports on the death toll during the first years of the war, gave its last estimate in 2016 â" when it relied on 2014 data, in part â" and said it was virtually impossible to verify how many had died. At that time, a UN official said 400,000 people had been killed.
The last comprehensive number widely accepted inte rnationally â" 470,000 dead â" was issued by the Syrian Centre for Policy Research in 2016. The group, which was based in Damascus until that year, was long seen as one of the most reliable local sources because it was not affiliated with the government or aligned with any opposition group.
The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said last month that at least 511,000 people had been killed in the war since March 2011. Another group, the Violations Documentation Centre, which is linked to opposition groups, has a much lower estimate, tallying 188,026 conflict-related deaths from mid-March 2011 until March 2018.
With files from Bloomberg, The Associated Press and Star staffRead more about: Delivered dailyThe Morning Headlines NewsletterSubscribe