President Donald Trump announced on Friday he ordered strikes on the Syrian regime in response to a chemical weapons attack last weekend.
“I ordered the United States armed forces to launch precision strikes on targets associated with the chemical weapon capabilities of Syrian dictator of Bashar al-Assad,” Trump said from the White House Diplomatic Reception Room.
Witnesses told CNN that they heard explosions in the capital city of Damascus and that they began while Trump was making his address.
US aircraft including B-1 bombers and ships were used in the attack, according to multiple US defense officials.
Trump said that he decided to take action because last weekend’s action by Bashar Al-Assad “was a significant attack against his own people,” and “not the actions of a man, they are crimes of a monster instead.”
Trump said the strikes were in coordination with France and the United Kingdom, adding that the purpose of the campaign is to “establish a strong deterrent against the production, spread and use of chemical weapons.”
“The combined American, British and French response to these atrocities will integrate all instruments of our national power: military, economic and diplomatic,” Trump said.
UK Prime Minister Theresa May said in a statement that she “authorized British armed forces to conduct coordinated and targeted strikes to degrade the Syrian Regime’s chemical weapons capability and deter their use.”
Trump indicated the strikes would continue until the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons ends.
“We are prepared to sustain this response until the Syrian regime stops its use of prohibited chemical agents,” Trump said.
Two US officials said attacks could continue beyond tonight, with a senior administration official saying “this isn’t over.”
The senior administration official said, “What you’ve seen tonight is not the end of the US response. They have built a lot of flexibility into the plan to allow for further strikes based on what they’ve hit tonight.”
A US official says a big concern is how much more sophisticated Russia’s capabilities are now compared to last year. The source says they are ‘significantly enhanced’ in terms of anti-strike and anti-aircraft capabilities.
Part of the calculation this week has also been gaming out how Russia will respond. “We are watching what Russians do in the next 24 hours,” the official said, adding that there will be intelligence collection to see what Russians are up to in the wake of the strikes, such as turning on their systems or talking about retaliating.
The President also insisted that the US would not remain engaged in Syria forever under any circumstances. He has previously told his national security team he wants US troops to exit Syria within six months.
“America does not seek an indefinite presence in Syria,” Trump said from the White House. “As other nations step up their contributions we look forward to the day we can bring our warriors home.”
Trump told the nation in his address the US “cannot purge the world of evil or act everywhere there is tyranny.”
And he described the Middle East as a “troubled place.”
“We will try to make it better but it is a troubled place,” Trump said. “The US will be a partner and a friend. But the fate of the region lies in the hands of its own people.”
He criticized Russia’s support of the Syrian regime saying “Russia must decide if it will continue down this dark path.”
Trump also called out Russia’s promise in 2013 that they would guarantee the elimination of Syria’s chemical weapons.
By Kevin Liptak, Jeff Zeleny and Zachary Cohen, CNN
Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill released the following statement shortly after the airstrikes were announced:
“I’m supportive of this targeted attack, carried out in partnership with our allies, on the source of these barbaric chemical weapons, but as I’ve said before, it needs to be part of a broader strategy. I look forward to learning more from our military leaders in the coming days.”
Missouri Senator Roy Blunt released the following statement shortly after the airstrikes were announced:
“President Trump, along with our allies, organized the right response to Bashar al-Assad’s horrific chemical attack. I commend the swift action on the part of all the military forces that carried out this mission. I support this effort and believe the president has the full authority to take these actions.”