On Thursday evening, President Trump ordered a missile strike against an airfield in Syria reportedly responsible for the chemical gas attack on civilians on Tuesday. According to NBC News, at least 59 Tomahawk missiles were fired at the Ash Sha'irat airfield in Homs province from a ship in the Mediterranean Sea.
On Thursday afternoon, Russia warned the United States at the United Nations against a possible strike against Syria. Those comments came after the Trump administration’s revised assessment that Syrian dictator Bashar Assad needed to be ousted from power, and after Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said there was “no doubt in our minds” that Assad was responsible for the gas attack, which killed at least 25 children, and told Russia to “consider carefully their continued support of the Assad regime.”
United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley stated a few hours before the strike, "Russia cannot escape responsibility for this. They chose to close their eyes to the barbarity. They defied the conscience of the world."
NBC News reports that the Trump administration warned Russia prior to the missile strike to ensure that no Russian assets were targeted.
Shortly after the attack Thursday night, Trump made the following statement, taking no questions:
"On Tuesday, Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad launched a horrible chemical weapons attack on innocent civilians. Using a deadly nerve agent, Assad choked out the lives of helpless men, women and children. It was a slow and brutal death for so many. Even beautiful babies were cruelly murdered in this very barbaric attack. No child of God should ever suffer such horror. Tonight I ordered a targeted military strike on the airfield 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. 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. Years of previous attempts at changing Assad’s behavior have all failed, and failed very dramatically. As a result, the refugee crisis continues to deepen, and the region continues to destabilize, threatening the United States and its allies. Tonight I call on all civilized nations to join us in seeking to end the slaughter and bloodshed in Syria, and also to end terrorism of all kinds and all types. We ask for God’s wisdom as we face the challenge of our very troubled world. We pray for the lives of the wounded and for the souls of those who have passed. And we hope that as long as America stands for justice, that peace and harmony will, in the end, prevail. Good night, and God bless America and the world. Thank you."
Days before the gas attack, members of the Trump administration said that the United States had no interest in ousting Assad. Thursday's attack signals a dramatic pivot in the administration's position on the regime. The aggressive response also highlights the difference between the new administration and the Obama administration, which was strongly criticized for failing to adequately respond to Assad's previous defiance of international law.
There is a general consensus among Western countries that Assad's forces are responsible for the attack on the town of Khan Sheikhoun, though the Syrian government denies responsibility. On Tuesday, U.S., Britain and France condemned the attack and called for an investigation in a draft UN resolution; however, Russia shut down the resolution, a move consistent with its continued alliance with Syria. Russia and China have each vetoed at least six resolutions targeting Syria.
U.S. lawmakers have begun to weigh in on the strike, including Speaker Paul Ryan, who called the administration's actions "appropriate and just":
Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) took to Twitter to express his disapproval of Trump's decision:
The Pentagon released the following statement:
At the direction of the president, U.S. forces conducted a cruise missile strike against a Syrian Air Force airfield today at about 8:40 p.m. EDT (4:40 a.m., April 7, in Syria). The strike targeted Shayrat Airfield in Homs governorate, and were in response to the Syrian government’s chemical weapons attack April 4 in Khan Sheikhoun, which killed and injured hundreds of innocent Syrian people, including women and children.
The strike was conducted using Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles (TLAMs) launched from the destroyers USS Porter and USS Ross in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea. A total of 59 TLAMs targeted aircraft, hardened aircraft shelters, petroleum and logistical storage, ammunition supply bunkers, air defense systems, and radars. As always, the U.S. took extraordinary measures to avoid civilian casualties and to comply with the Law of Armed Conflict. Every precaution was taken to execute this strike with minimal risk to personnel at the airfield.
The strike was a proportional response to Assad’s heinous act. Shayrat Airfield was used to store chemical weapons and Syrian air forces. The U.S. intelligence community assesses that aircraft from Shayrat conducted the chemical weapons attack on April 4. The strike was intended to deter the regime from using chemical weapons again.
Russian forces were notified in advance of the strike using the established deconfliction line. U.S. military planners took precautions to minimize risk to Russian or Syrian personnel located at the airfield.
We are assessing the results of the strike. Initial indications are that this strike has severely damaged or destroyed Syrian aircraft and support infrastructure and equipment at Shayrat Airfield, reducing the Syrian Government’s ability to deliver chemical weapons. The use of chemical weapons against innocent people will not be tolerated.
This article has been updated as new details have emerged.