President Donald Trump cast the United States assault on a Syrian air base as vital to deter future use of poison gas and called on other nations to join in seeking “to end the slaughter and bloodshed in Syria.”
The U.S. blasted the air base Thursday night with a barrage of cruise missiles in fiery retaliation for this week’s gruesome chemical weapons attack against civilians.
It was the first direct American assault on the Syrian government and Trump’s most dramatic military order since becoming president just over two months ago.
Announcing the assault from his Florida resort, Trump said there was no doubt Syrian President Bashar Assad was responsible for the chemical attack, which he said employed banned gases and killed dozens.
“Assad choked out the lives of helpless men, women and children,” Trump declared.
The Syrian military said at least seven people were killed and several were wounded in the strikes on the air base.
Trump ordered the strikes without approval from Congress or the backing of the United Nations. U.S. officials said he had the right to use force to defend national interests and to protect civilians from atrocities.
Sen. John McCain, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, says President Donald Trump must “be prepared to take other action” in Syria.
In an interview on MSNBC, McCain praised Thursday’s air strikes as a measured approach to chemical weapons attacks by the Syrian government that “restores credibility” to the U.S. and gives Trump a chance to “reboot with the American people.” McCain says the Syrian air force must be neutralized and that new demilitarized “safe zones” should be created to address the humanitarian crisis.
Syrian state TV reported a U.S. missile attack on a number of military targets and called the attack an “aggression.” The office of Syria’s president called the U.S. missile strike “reckless” and “irresponsible.”
U.S. officials placed some of the blame on Russia, one of Syria’s most important benefactors. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, in Florida with Trump, said Moscow had failed to live up to a 2013 agreement that was intended to strip Syria of its chemical weapons stockpiles.
“Either Russia has been complicit or Russia has been simply incompetent in its ability to deliver on its end of the agreement,” Tillerson said.
The U.S. Tomahawk missiles, fired from warships in the Mediterranean Sea, targeted an air base in retaliation for the attack that America believes Syrian government aircraft launched with the nerve agent sarin mixed with chlorine gas. The president did not announce the attacks in advance, though he and other national security officials ratcheted up their warnings to the Syrian government throughout the day Thursday.
Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said Friday that the S-400 and Pantsyr air defense systems offer a “guaranteed protection” to Russian warplanes stationed at Hemeimeem air base in Syria’s province of Latakia.
He added that a Russian navy outpost in Syria’s Mediterranean port of Tartus is protected by S-300 air defense systems.
Konashenkov has previously said that the Russian military would help the Syrian military beef up its air defenses following the U.S. strike.
The Kremlin said in a statement carried by Russian news agencies that the senior Russian officials who attended Friday’s meeting described the U.S. action as an “act of aggression in violation of international law.”
China’s Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying did not say whether U.S. President Donald Trump told China’s President Xi Jinping that he was planning to strike Syria before it was publicly announced.
The U.S. said it launched the missile strikes shortly after a dinner between Xi and Trump ended on Thursday night.
When asked at a news briefing if the Chinese side was given advance warning she responded: “I have no information on that.”
She said that China “always opposes the use of force in international relations” when asked China’s position on the U.S. strike.
“[China] maintains that disputes should be peacefully resolved through political and diplomatic means such as dialogue and consultation,” Hua said.
“Given the current situation, we hope that all parties can keep calm, exercise restraint, prevent further deterioration of the situation and uphold the hard-won process of political settlement of the Syrian issue.”
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif took to Twitter on Friday to denounce the strikes, saying: “Not even two decades after 9/11, U.S. military fighting on same side as al-Qaida & ISIS in Yemen & Syria. Time to stop hype and cover-ups.”
Not even two decades after 9/11, US military fighting on same side as al-Qaida & ISIS in Yemen & Syria. Time to stop hype and cover-ups. 3/3
— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) April 7, 2017
U.S. officials portrayed the strikes as an appropriate, measured response and said they did not signal a broader shift in the Trump administration’s approach to the Syrian conflict.
“The intent was to deter the regime from doing this again,” said Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, the Pentagon spokesman. “It will be the regime’s choice if there’s any more, and it will be based upon their conduct going forward.”
Before the strikes, U.S. military officials said they informed their Russian counterparts of the impending attack. The goal was to avoid any accident involving Russian forces.
Nevertheless, Russia’s Deputy U.N. ambassador Vladimir Safronkov warned that any negative consequences from the strikes would be on the “shoulders of those who initiated such a doubtful and tragic enterprise.”
The U.S. also notified its partner countries in the region prior to launching the strikes.
Two Arab countries in the Gulf are backing the U.S. missile strike on Syria.
The United Arab Emirates, which hosts some 4,000 American troops, said Friday the U.S. had its “full support.” Anwar Gargash, minister of state for foreign affairs, praised Trump’s “courageous and wise decision.” That mirrored earlier language used by Saudi Arabia.
The tiny island nation of Bahrain described the U.S. missile strike on Syria as “needed to stop the bloodshed” in that country’s war. That island kingdom hosts the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet.
Rulers in both countries long have been suspicious of Iran and its influence in Syria and the greater region. Both have opposed the rule of embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Trump’s decision to attack Syria came three-and-a-half years after President Barack Obama threatened Assad with military action after an earlier chemical weapons attack killed hundreds outside Damascus. Obama had declared the use of such weapons a “red line.” At the time, several American ships in the Mediterranean were poised to launch missiles, only for Obama to abruptly pull back after key U.S. ally Britain and the U.S. Congress balked at his plan.
He opted instead for the Russian-backed plan that was supposed to remove and eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles.
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Story by The Associated Press