Friday 27 April 2018

'US remains locked and loaded' for more raids

Trump praises 'perfectly executed' airstrikes and warns of further attacks as Russia threatens coalition with 'consequences'

BOMB BRIEFING: US Marine Lt. Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr. speaks during a news conference about the Syria air strikes at The Pentagon yesterday. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images
BOMB BRIEFING: US Marine Lt. Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr. speaks during a news conference about the Syria air strikes at The Pentagon yesterday. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Chris Graham, Ben Riley-Smith, Rozina Sabur and Barney Henderson

The United States is "locked and loaded" if Syria uses chemical weapons again, Donald Trump has threatened.

While Syria and Russia have insisted they had no hand in an alleged chemical attack in the Damascus suburb of Douma, the US, UK and France said they were convinced they had, something that led them to hit three Syrian targets on Friday night associated with the weapons' production and storage.

The US defence secretary said the strikes, that involved the firing of 105 cruise missiles from planes and ships, were for the time being a "a one-time shot". Yet at an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council, hours after the hour-long strikes had concluded, the US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, said Washington was ready to attack again if there was further use of chemical weapons. Ms Haley said she had spoken earlier in the day with Mr Trump.

"We are confident that we have crippled Syria's chemical weapons programme. We are prepared to sustain this pressure, if the Syrian regime is foolish enough to test our will," she said. "If the Syrian regime uses this poisonous gas again, the United States is locked and loaded."

Russia responded by demanding a UN resolution that would condemn "the aggression" against Syria by the United States and its allies. The short draft resolution called the action a violation of international law and the UN charter.

Russia's UN ambassador Vassily Nebenzia told the council the US and its allies struck without waiting for an investigation by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, calling the attack "hooliganism". "This was blatant disregard for international law," he said.

A picture showing the wreckage of a building described as part of the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Centre (SSRC) compound in the Barzeh district, north of Damascus, during a press tour organised by the Syrian information ministry yesterday. Photo: Louai Beshara/AFP/Getty Images
A picture showing the wreckage of a building described as part of the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Centre (SSRC) compound in the Barzeh district, north of Damascus, during a press tour organised by the Syrian information ministry yesterday. Photo: Louai Beshara/AFP/Getty Images

The 105 missiles launched overnight in retaliation for a suspected poison gas attack in Syria targeted three chemical weapons facilities, including research and development buildings in Damascus' Barzeh district and two facilities near Homs, Pentagon officials said. "We believe that by hitting Barzeh in particular we've attacked the heart of the Syrian chemicals weapon programme," Lt Gen Kenneth McKenzie, director of the joint staff, told reporters.

However, Mr McKenzie acknowledged elements of Syria's chemical weapons programme remained in place and he could not guarantee that Syria would be unable to conduct a chemical attack in the future.

Mr Trump called the operation a success in a morning Twitter post and proclaimed: "Mission accomplished", a phrase that called to mind a claim made by George W Bush in the early stages of the US and UK invasion of Iraq that proved to be badly wrong.

Yesterday, Syria released a video of the wreckage of a bombed-out research lab, but also of Mr Assad arriving at work as usual, with the caption "Morning of resilience".

Ten hours after the missiles hit, smoke was still rising from the remains of five destroyed buildings of the Syrian Scientific Research Centre in Barzeh, in which a Syrian employee said medical components were researched and developed, Reuters said.

There were no immediate reports of casualties. Damascus's allies said the buildings hit had been evacuated in advance. Russia had promised to respond to any attack on its ally, and said yesterday that Syrian air defences had intercepted 71 of the missiles fired.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said yesterday that US-led strikes on Syria were "unacceptable and lawless" and threatened 'consequences'.

Meanwhile, British Prime Minister Theresa May ordered the RAF to take part in strikes after government lawyers advised that a strike would be lawful on humanitarian grounds.

A summary of legal advice signed off by Jeremy Wright, the attorney general, stated that the attack, aimed at "degrading the Syrian regime's chemical weapons capability", was permitted under international law because it represented "an exceptional measure on grounds of overwhelming humanitarian necessity".

The document was released last night ahead of a Commons statement by Mrs May tomorrow during which she is likely to face strong criticism from Jeremy Corbyn, and possibly some of her own backbenchers, about the decision to proceed with military action without Parliament's approval.

Government figures hoped it would allay concerns about the legality of the strikes and pave the way for a less hostile response from MPs.

Yesterday, several senior Conservatives who had previously opposed military intervention against Bashar al-Assad rallied around the Prime Minister, praising the action taken in the early hours of Saturday morning.

Speaking in Downing Street, Mrs May said her appearance in the Commons would "give parliamentarians the opportunity to question me about this. I believe it was right to take the action that we have done in the timing that we have done, as I have indicated, in relation to assessment planning and operational security," she said. "And it was to send a very clear message about the use of these chemical weapons." Drawing a link with last month's nerve agent attack on a former spy and his daughter in Salisbury, Mrs May added: "We cannot allow the use of chemical weapons to become normalised - either within Syria, on the streets of the UK or elsewhere."

Mrs May also insisted the move was in "Britain's national interest. "We must reinstate the global consensus that chemical weapons cannot be used".

©Telegraph

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