Trump makes good on threat against Assad regime
Fulfilling a threat he has held out since news of a chemical weapons attack in Syria almost a week ago, President Donald J. Trump announced Friday night that he had ordered U.S. military strikes against key targets in Syria to degrade the chemical weapons capability of the Bashar al-Assad regime.
Addressing the nation from the White House shortly after 9pm Washington time, Trump said that a military operation was underway in collaboration with France and Great Britain. The missiles struck Syria shortly after 4am local time on Saturday, reported the New York Times:
Residents of Damascus woke to the sounds of multiple explosions shaking the city before the dawn call to prayer. The capital and the hills are surrounded by military facilities, and it appeared that these were among the first targets.
He said that last Saturday, the Assad regime deployed chemical weapons “to slaughter innocent civilians.” The suspected killed some 40 people in the Eastern Damascus suburb of Douma, which has been in rebel hands.
“This massacre was a significant escalation in a pattern of chemical weapons use by that very terrible regime,” the president said. “The evil and the despicable attack left mothers and fathers, infants and children, thrashing in pain and gasping for air. These are not the actions of a man; they are crimes of a monster instead.”
He said the purpose of the precision strikes, “is to establish a strong deterrent against the production, spread, and use of chemical weapons. Establishing this deterrent is a vital national security interest of the United States. The combined American, British, and French response to these atrocities will integrate all instruments of our national power — military, economic, and diplomatic. We are prepared to sustain this response until the Syrian regime stops its use of prohibited chemical agents.”
A fact-finding mission from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons was to begin investigating the incident on Saturday in Douma, which had been held by rebels before the suspected attack, the Times noted. The mission’s job was only to determine whether chemical weapons had been used, not who had used them.
But US officials said Friday they had intelligence implicating the Syrian government.
“We have a very high confidence that Syria was responsible,” said White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
In a press briefing at the Pentagon, Secretary of Defense James Mattis said he was “confident that the Syrian regime conducted a chemical attack on innocent people. … We have the intelligence level of confidence that we needed to conduct the attack.”
He did not offer to provide evidence. He said that the U.S. was very confident that chlorine gas was used. “We are not ruling out sarin right now.”
At the Pentagon press conference, Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that Friday night’s targets were “specifically associated with the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons program.” They included a “scientific research center” in the greater Damascus area, which Dunford characterized as a “center for the research, development, production and testing of chemical and biological warfare technology.”
The second target, he said, was a chemical weapons storage facility west of the city of Homs.
“We assessed that this was the primary location of Syrian sarin and precursor production equipment,” he said.
The third target, the general continued, “contained both a chemical weapons equipment storage facility and an important command post.”
Dunford predicted that the strikes will result in a “longterm degradation of Syria’s capability to develop chemical and biological weapons. Important infrastructure was destroyed that will result in a setback for the Syrian regime. They will lose years of research and development data, specialized equipment, and expensive chemical weapons precursors.”