Sunday 19 November 2017

Trump unleashes military strikes against Assad airbase in Syria

President Donald Trump speaks at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida after the US fired a barrage of cruise missiles into Syria Thursday night in retaliation for this week's gruesome chemical weapons attack against civilians. Photo: AP
President Donald Trump speaks at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida after the US fired a barrage of cruise missiles into Syria Thursday night in retaliation for this week's gruesome chemical weapons attack against civilians. 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
Syrian President Bashar Assad faces demands to quit
US First Lady Melania Trump (R) and President Donald Trump (2nd R) pose with Chinese President Xi Jinping (2nd L) and his wife Peng Liyuan (L) upon their arrival to the Mar-a-Lago estate in West Palm Beach, Florida, on April 6, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSONJIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images
Russian President Vladimir Putin. Photo: Mikhail Klimentyev, Sputnik. Via AP
Aya Fadl, who lost more than a dozen family members in the suspected chemical attack on Khan Sheikhoun, wears an oxygen mask to heal breathing difficulties (Aya Fadl/AP)
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 Syrian child receives treatment following a suspected toxic gas attack in Khan Sheikhun, a rebel-held town in the northwestern Syrian Idlib province, on April 4, 2017
A man breathes through an oxygen mask as another one receives treatments, after what rescue workers described as a suspected gas attack in the town of Khan Sheikhoun in rebel-held Idlib, Syria Photo: Reuters/Ammar Abdullah
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson welcomes Chinese president Xi Jinping at Palm Beach International Airport in Florida (Lynne Sladky/AP)

Steve Holland

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.

US officials said the military launched dozens of cruise missile strikes against an airbase controlled by Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad's forces in response to the chemical attack on Tuesday in a rebel-held area.

Facing his biggest foreign policy crisis since taking office in January, Trump took the toughest direct US action yet in Syria's six-year-old civil war, raising the risk of confrontation with Russia and Iran, Assad's two main military backers.

Some 50 Tomahawk missiles were launched from US Navy warships in the Mediterranean Sea, striking multiple targets - including the airstrip, aircraft and fuel stations - on an airbase in Homs, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Further details and damage estimates from the strikes, which were conducted at 8:45 pm EDT (00:45 GMT Friday), were not immediately known.

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.

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

Trump appeared to have opted for measured and targeted air attacks instead of a full-blown assault on Assad's forces and installations.

Trump, who was attending a summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping at his Florida resort, said earlier on Thursday that "something should happen" with Assad but did not specifically call for his ouster.

Officials from the Pentagon and State Department met all day to discuss plans for the missile strikes.

US military action put the new president at odds with Russia, which has air and ground forces in Syria after intervening there on Assad's side in 2015 and turning the tide against mostly Sunni Muslim rebel groups.

Trump has until now focused his Syria policy almost exclusively on defeating Islamic State militants in northern Syria, where US special forces are supporting Arab and Kurdish armed groups.

The risks have grown worse since 2013, when Barack Obama, Trump's predecessor, considered and then rejected ordering a cruise missile strike in response to the use of chemical weapons by Assad's loyalists.

Only last week, US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said the US diplomatic policy on Syria for now was no longer focused on making Assad leave power, one of Obama's aims.

But Trump said on Wednesday the gas attack in Idlib province, which sparked outrage around the world, had caused him to think again about Assad.

A Syrian child receives treatment following a suspected toxic gas attack in Khan Sheikhun, a rebel-held town in the northwestern Syrian Idlib province, on April 4, 2017
A Syrian child receives treatment following a suspected toxic gas attack in Khan Sheikhun, a rebel-held town in the northwestern Syrian Idlib province, on April 4, 2017

Speaking just before the strikes were announced, Russia's deputy UN envoy, Vladimir Safronkov, warned of "negative consequences" if the United States went ahead with military action, saying the blame would be “on shoulders of those who initiated such doubtful and tragic enterprise.”

The deployment of military force against Assad marked a major reversal for Trump.

Obama’s set a “red line” in 2012 against Assad’s use of chemical weapons. When Obama then threatened military action after a 2013 chemical attack, Trump issued a series of tweets opposing the idea, including “Do NOT attack Syria, fix U.S.A.”

Obama backtracked on the air strikes, and after the latest attack, Trump was quick to blame his Democratic predecessor for “weakness and irresolution” that emboldened Assad.

Reuters

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