In a robust response to the alleged use of chemical weapons by Syria, the US, UK and France struck targets associated with those weapons in the area of Damascus yesterday.
US President Donald Trump announced Friday evening in a televised address that the United States has launched an attack targeting forces of the Syrian Bashar al-Assad regime in retaliation for the alleged chemical attack on the rebel city of Douma.
“A short time ago, I ordered the United States armed forces to launch precision strikes on targets associated with the chemical weapons capability of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad,” Trump said.
“A combined operation with the armed forces of France and the United Kingdom is now under way. We thank them both.”\
British Prime Minister Theresa May delivered her own televised address.
“The Syrian regime has a history of using chemical weapons against its own people….this persistent pattern of behavior must be stopped… because we cannot allow the erosion of the international norm that prevents the use of these weapons,” she said. “The international community must defend the global rules and standards that keep us all safe.”
Attack restricted to chemical sites, command post
Defense department officials briefed reporters after the announcement, detailing strikes on three targets over a 70-minute period. They confirmed that the operation had concluded and said that no further strikes were planned at this time.
Defense Secretary James Mattis emphasized that care was taken to ensure the strike would only target the al-Assad regime, and the coalition forces went to “great lengths to prevent civilian and foreign casualties.”
The coalition attack was designed to “destroy the regime’s research, development and production capability, ” of chemical weapons, Mattis said, calling it “decisive action to strike chemical weapons infrastructure.”
Referring to last year’s attack on a Syrian airbase, he said, “The Assad regime did not get the message last year. This time we struck harder.” Approximately double the number of weapons were used in the latest strike, Mattis said.
The strikes targeted a research facility, a chemical weapons storage facility and a command post, according to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford. Targets were struck in the Damascus and Homs areas.
There were no reports of losses among the attacking forces, Mattis said. Dunford noted that while normal deconfliction channels had been used, Russia had not been informed in advance of the attack or the targets.
Russian forces in Syrian did not respond; the only opposition to the operation came from Syrian surface-to-air missiles, the general added.
The briefers, however, were not entirely clear on what chemical agents the Syrians had deployed against Douma. “We are very confident that chlorine was used and we are not ruling out sarin right now,” Mattis said.
In addition to sea-launched missiles, reports indicate that US B1 bombers, and British Tornado and French Rafele fighter bombers, took part in the action.
Syrian news confirms attack; Russian ‘disinformation’ anticipated
Syria’s Al-Masdar news had earlier reported explosions in rural Damscus near the Dumayr Airbase in eastern Qalamoun. The Syrian Air Force used that site to launch airstrikes on East Ghouta, the report said.
Previous coalition attacks have not targeted the Damascus area.
Syrian Air Defense responded to the attacks, Al-Masdar said, but many cruise missiles successfully landed.
In anticipation of the media war to come, Mattis, in a pointed allusion to Russia, said in his briefing, “We fully expect a significant disinformation campaign by those who have aligned themselves with the Assad regime.”
Russia has denied that the Syrians have used chemical weapons, and has strongly warned the West not to attack its ally.
In an early response, the Russian foreign ministry called the Western attacks a violation of international laws.