Monday 18 December 2017

Explainer: Everything you need to know about Trump's overnight US missile strike on Syrian air base

  • About 60 US Tomahawk missiles hit Shayrat air base, south east of Homs
  • Targeted military strike against airfield from which deadly chemical attack was launched
  • Trump defends attack
  • Israel, Britain, Saudi Arabia and Australia come out to support action
Undated handout photo issued by the US Department of Defense of USS Ross (DDG 71) firing a tomahawk land attack missile from the Mediterranean Sea. MC3 (SW) Robert S. Price/US Department of Defense/PA Wire
Undated handout photo issued by the US Department of Defense of USS Ross (DDG 71) firing a tomahawk land attack missile from the Mediterranean Sea. MC3 (SW) Robert S. Price/US Department of Defense/PA Wire
Donald Trump announces the US cruise missile strike against Syria (AP)
President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping, with their wives, first lady Melania Trump and Chinese first lady Peng Liyuan are seated during a dinner at Mar-a-Lago, Thursday, April 6, 2017, in Palm Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Ivanka Trump, second from right, the daughter and assistant to President Donald Trump, is seated with her husband White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, right, during a dinner with President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping, at Mar-a-Lago, Thursday, April 6, 2017, in Palm Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping, with their wives, first lady Melania Trump and Chinese first lady Peng Liyuan are seated at the center, during a dinner at Mar-a-Lago, Thursday, April 6, 2017, in Palm Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping, with their wives, first lady Melania Trump and Chinese first lady Peng Liyuan are seated at the center, during a dinner at Mar-a-Lago, Thursday, April 6, 2017, in Palm Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping, sit with their wives, first lady Melania Trump, left, and Chinese first lady Peng Liyuan, right, before a meeting at Mar-a-Lago, Thursday, April 6, 2017, in Palm Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Ivanka Trump, second from right, the daughter and assistant to President Donald Trump, is seated with her husband White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, right, during a dinner with President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping, at Mar-a-Lago, Thursday, April 6, 2017, in Palm Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Undated handout photo issued by the US Navy of USS Porter (DDG 78) firing a tomahawk land attack missile from the Mediterranean Sea. Seaman Ford Williams/US Navy/PA Wire
Undated handout photo issued by the US Navy of USS Porter (DDG 78) firing a tomahawk land attack missile from the Mediterranean Sea. Seaman Ford Williams/US Navy/PA Wire
President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping, with their wives, first lady Melania Trump and Chinese first lady Peng Liyuan are seated during a dinner at Mar-a-Lago, Thursday, April 6, 2017, in Palm Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Kathy Armstrong, Phil Stewart and Steve Holland

U.S. President Donald Trump said he ordered missile strikes against a Syrian airfield from which a deadly chemical weapons attack was launched, declaring he acted in America's "vital national security interest".

At least five people have died and seven others were injured after the US missiles attack, officials have claimed.

1. What happened?

About 60 US Tomahawk missiles hit the Shayrat air base south east of Homs - a small installation with two runways, where aircraft often take off to bomb targets in northern and central Syria.

The US missiles struck at 3.45am on Friday, Syria time, and targeted the base's airstrips, hangars, control tower and ammunition areas, American officials said.

They were fired from two warships in the Mediterranean Sea, in retaliation for Tuesday's deadly chemical attack that officials said used chlorine mixed with a nerve agent, possibly sarin.

The US fired a barrage of cruise missiles into Syria Thursday night in retaliation for this week's gruesome chemical weapons attack against civilians, the first direct American assault on the Syrian government and Donald Trump's most dramatic military order since becoming president. Photo: AP
The US fired a barrage of cruise missiles into Syria Thursday night in retaliation for this week's gruesome chemical weapons attack against civilians, the first direct American assault on the Syrian government and Donald Trump's most dramatic military order since becoming president. Photo: AP

2. What else do we know?

A Syrian official said the attack killed three soldiers and two civilians while seven others were wounded.

Talal Barazi, the governor of Homs province, said a fire raged in the air base in Homs for over an hour following the barrage of missiles. A Syrian opposition monitor said the attack killed four soldiers, including a general.

3. Why did the US attack that air base?

US President Donald Trump said on Thursday he ordered a targeted military strike against an airfield in Syria from which a deadly chemical attack was launched this week.

Trump ordered the strikes just a day after he pointed the finger at Assad for this week's chemical attack, which killed at least 70 people, many of them children, in the Syrian town of Khan Sheikhoun. The Syrian government has denied it was behind the attack.

4. Could there be any other reasons why Trump targeted the air base?

The relatively quick response to the chemical attack came as Trump faced a growing list of global problems, from North Korea and China to Iran and Islamic State.

A crater is seen at the site of an airstrike, after what rescue workers described as a suspected gas attack in the town of Khan Sheikhoun in rebel-held Idlib, Syria. Photo: Reuters
A crater is seen at the site of an airstrike, after what rescue workers described as a suspected gas attack in the town of Khan Sheikhoun in rebel-held Idlib, Syria. Photo: Reuters

It has been suggested the attack may have been intended to send a message to friends and foes alike of his resolve to use military force if deemed necessary.

5. What has Donald Trump said about the incident?

Trump has defended the attack, saying: "Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad launched a horrible chemical weapons attack on innocent civilians ... "Tonight I ordered a targeted military strike on the airfield in Syria from where the chemical attack was launched.

"It is in this vital national security interest of the United States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons...

"Years of previous attempts at changing Assad’s behavior have all failed and failed very dramatically."

6. How have Syrian officials reacted?

Syrian state TV said that "American aggression" had targeted a Syrian military base with "a number of missiles and cited a Syrian military source as saying the strike had "led to losses."

The governor of Syria's Homs province, where the airbase is located, said the strikes were not believed to have caused "big human casualties" but had caused material damage.

A Syrian doctor treats a child at a makeshift hospital in the town of Khan Sheikhoun following the suspected chemical attack (Edlib Media Centre/AP)
A Syrian doctor treats a child at a makeshift hospital in the town of Khan Sheikhoun following the suspected chemical attack (Edlib Media Centre/AP)

Governor Talal Barazi told Reuters the attack served the interests of "armed terrorist groups" including Islamic State, adding that the targeted air base had been providing air support for army operations against Islamic State east of Palmyra.

"I believe - God willing - that the human casualties are not big, but there is material damage. We hope there are not many victims and martyrs," he said by telephone.

7. Have any nations condemned the action?

Iran is one of the biggest supporters of embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad and its hard-line paramilitary Revolutionary Guard is deeply involved in the war.

Iran's state news agency IRNA quoted Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi as saying: "Iran strongly condemns any such unilateral strikes... Such measures will strengthen terrorists in Syria ... and will complicate the situation in Syria and the region."

Russian President Vladimir Putin believes that U.S. cruise missile strikes on a Syrian air base broke international law and have seriously hurt U.S.-Russia relations, news agencies cited the Kremlin as sayin.

Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov was cited as saying that the Russian leader, a staunch ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, regarded the U.S. action as "aggression against a sovereign nation" on a "made-up pretext" and as a cynical attempt to distract the world from civilian deaths in Iraq.

Peskov was quoted as saying that Russia did not believe that Syria possessed chemical weapons and that the U.S. move would inevitably create a serious obstacle to creating an international coalition to fight terrorism, an idea that Putin has repeatedly pushed.

Russia also said it is suspending a deal with the US to prevent mid-air incidents over Syria in response to the US missile strike.

8. Who is supporting the US action?

The Syrian Coalition opposition group welcomed the US attack, saying it put an end to an age of "impunity" and should be just the beginning.

Israel's prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed the US attack, saying he "fully supports" Mr Trump's decision.

President Bashar al-Assad. Photo: AP
President Bashar al-Assad. Photo: AP

Mr Netanyahu said "in both word and action" Mr Trump "sent a strong and clear message" that "the use and spread of chemical weapons will not be tolerated".

A British government spokesman said: "The UK Government fully supports the US action, which we believe was an appropriate response to the barbaric chemical weapons attack launched by the Syrian regime, and is intended to deter further attacks."

Saudi Arabia said it "fully supports" U.S. strikes on military targets in Syria, saying it was a "courageous decision" by President Donald Trump in response to the use of chemical weapons against civilians.

"A responsible source at the foreign ministry expressed the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia's full support for the American military operations on military targets in Syria, which came as a response to the Syrian regime's use of chemical weapons against innocent civilians..."

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull supported the U.S. air strike on a Syrian airbase, calling it a "proportionate and calibrated response".

In a televised statement, he also called on Russia to play its part in bringing peace to Syria.

9. How have the stock markets reacted?

Bonds, gold and the yen jumped in Asia on Friday, while stocks retreated, as investors fled to safe assets after the United States launched cruise missiles against an airbase in Syria, raising the risk of confrontation with Russia and Iran.

The U.S. dollar dropped as much as 0.6 percent, while gold and oil prices rallied hard, though the early market panic ebbed when a U.S. official called the attack a "one-off", with no plans for escalation.

"It was a knee-jerk reaction because markets are starting to come back a little, as it doesn't seem like there will be further retaliation coming," said Christoffer Moltke-Leth, head of institutional client trading at Saxo Capital Markets in Singapore.

European stocks were also poised for a negative start, with financial spreadbetters expecting Britain's FTSE 100 and France's CAC 40 to open down 0.2 percent, and Germany's DAX to start the day 0.3 percent lower.

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