The United States launched a salvo of 59 missiles on an airfield controlled by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in response to a chemical attack that killed at least 80 people in the northwestern part of the country on Monday.
The Tomahawk missiles, launched from two Navy warships stationed in the Mediterranean, represent the first US strikes on the Assad regime.
US President Donald Trump initially resisted the idea of becoming involved in Syria, but he suggested Wednesday that his calculus had changed after the chemical attack.
"No child of god should suffer such horror," Trump said in a televised address after the cruise missile strikes. “It is in this vital national security interest of the United States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons, and that is the key."
Both Syrian and Russian forces have denied responsibility for the attack, with Russian forces claiming a conventional airstrike hit a cache of chemical weapons owned by rebels in Syria. International experts have dismissed this as an "infantile argument."
Though the US strike targeted infrastructure and runways, a large volley of cruise missiles carries the risk of collateral damage to troops stationed nearby. Initial reports from Syrian military sources say the strikes "led to losses," as Reuters notes.
Congressman Adam Schiff told MSNBC that the airfield had been vetted by US forces to ensure civilians weren't endangered and Russian in the area were aware. The Trump administration maintains that key US allies had prior warning to the strikes.
Russia's deputy envoy to the UN told reporters earlier Thursday that there would be "negative consequences" for "those who initiated such doubtful and tragic enterprise" should attacks occur in Syria.
Russian and US warplanes have operated over Syria's contested airspace since Russia's entrance into the Syrian conflict in October 2015. The US became involved in the country by training and equipping vetted groups of rebels fighting against Assad as early as 2011.
In 2014, the US and a coalition of 68 other nations joined together to destroy ISIS, a terrorist group that declared territory in the eastern part of Syria and parts of Iraq. The US currently has a limited number of ground troops in eastern Syria, away from the Assad regime, to support local forces in the fight against ISIS.
"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 types," said Trump after the strikes.
Read Trump's full remarks below:
On Tuesday Syrian President Bashar al Assad launched a horrible chemical 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 at this very barbaric attack. No child of God should ever suffer such horror.
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 Untied 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.
Numerous previous attempts at changing Assad’s behavior have all found 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 Syrian and also to end terrorism of all kinds and all types. We asked 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 passed. And we hope as long as America stands for justice and peace and harmony will in the end prevail.
Good night and God Bless America and the entire world.
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