- U.S. Launches Missile Strike on Syria in Response to Gas Attack
The U.S. launched a cruise missile attack against Syria two days after Bashar al-Assad’s regime used poison gas to kill scores of civilians, an act that drew international condemnation and that President Donald Trump called “an affront to humanity.”
The strike early Friday morning in Syria targeted hangars, planes and fuel tanks at one Syrian military airfield, according to a U.S. official. The U.S. attacked with about 60 Raytheon Co. Tomahawk cruise missiles fired from two Navy destroyers.
The task of military planners was made riskier by the presence of Russian forces in Syria to support Bashar al-Assad’s regime in its battle against rebel groups that include Islamic State and al-Qaeda fighters but also some backed by the U.S.
The decision to strike in Syria marked a stark reversal for Trump, who during his presidential campaign faulted past U.S. leaders for getting embroiled in conflicts in the Middle East. But he said this week that deaths of children among the more that 70 killed in the April 4 attack, images of which were broadcast worldwide, crossed “beyond red lines” and changed his thinking.
The attack occurred while Trump was at his Florida estate after a dinner with Chinese President Xi Jinping, where they were to discuss what to do about North Korea’s nuclear program and U.S.-China trade disagreements. Traveling to Mar-a-Lago from Washington on Thursday, Trump spoke to reporters aboard Air Force One about Assad, saying “what happened in Syria is a disgrace to humanity. And he’s there, and I guess he’s running things. So something should happen.”
Soon after, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson appeared in a hastily arranged news conference in Florida — his first in the U.S. since he was confirmed for the job — ostensibly to discuss Xi’s visit. But the real intent was to address the Syria issue, according to a State Department official who asked not to be identified because he wasn’t authorized to speak publicly about the matter.
The gas attack, Tillerson said, “violates all previous UN resolutions, violates international norms and long-held agreements between parties, including the Syrian regime, the Russian government, and all other members of the UN Security Council.”
The attack “requires a serious response,” he said. Tillerson also had stern words for Russia.
“It is very important that the Russian government consider carefully their continued support for the Assad regime,” he said at the Palm Beach airport.
While Tillerson told reporters that “steps are under way” to mobilize a coalition to remove Assad, he said that effort would probably come after Islamic State terrorists in the country are defeated and some stability returns to the Middle East country.