Two American warships in the Mediterranean Sea on Thursday night launched more than 50 Tomahawk cruise missiles at a government-controlled airbase inside Syria.
The target of the attack was the Al-Shayrat Airbase in the central Syrian village of Shayrat. It is the airbase identified earlier in the day by the U.S. military as the base from which Syria military aircraft launched a chemical attack on the province of Idlib on Tuesday.
“Tonight, I ordered a targeted military strike on the air field in Syria from where the chemical attack was launched,” U.S. President Trump told reporters at Mar-a-Lago. “It is in this vital national security of the United States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons.”
“There can be no dispute that Syria used banned chemical weapons, violated its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention and ignored the urging of the UN Security Council,” he said. “Years of previous attempts at changing (Syrian President Bashar) Assad’s behavior have all failed and failed very dramatically.”
“A total of 59 [Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles] targeted aircraft, hardened aircraft shelters, petroleum and logistical storage, ammunition supply bunkers, air defense systems, and radars,” A statement from the Pentagon said. “As always, the U.S. took extraordinary measures to avoid civilian casualties and to comply with the Law of Armed Conflict.”
As many as 74 people, including some children, and scores were seriously injured by nerve gas bombs believed to be sarin that was dropped on civilian targets by the Syrian aircraft.
The cruise missile attack is U.S. President Donald Trump’s most critical military order yet since taking office. However, the Trump administration’s stance towards the Assad regime has been characterized by what appears to be uncertainty.
A few hours before the attack, Trump was attending a summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. The U.S. president was cryptic when asked by reporters what his plans were after it was determined that the aircraft that dropped the chemical bombs took off from a Syrian-controlled airbase. Trump only told reporters that “something would happen.”
Back on March 30th Trump’s Secretary of State Rex Tillerson commented that Assad’s rule “will be decided by the Syrian people.” U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, on the same day, was quoted as saying “our priority is no longer to sit there and focus on getting Assad out.”
Even Trump, back in 2013, was very vocal against then U.S. President Barack Obama when he sought Congress approval for a military intervention in Syria following the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons against civilians and opposition forces.
The Republican-led Congress at that time refused to take a firm stand against Assad and to send American troops into Syria. Some quarters believe Obama’s actions pushed Assad to agree to a Russian-brokered deal to relinquish control of his chemical weapons to the Russians.
However, after nerve gas was dropped on Idlib this week Trump was quick to take to Twitter and blame Obama’s failure to mount a military action in Syria four years ago for this week’s chemical attack.