The Trump administration called the chemical attack that killed 80 innocent civilians a serious matter than required a serious response.
“Tonight I ordered a targeted military strike on the airfield in Syria from where the chemical attack was launched,” Trump said.
At 8:45 p.m. ET, the U.S. launched nearly 60 cruise missiles from ships in the Mediterranean, targeting an airfield in Syria about 50 miles south of the village hit by Tuesday’s gas attack.
“On Tuesday, Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad launched a horrible chemical weapons attack on innocent civilians,” Trump said. “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.”
“It is in vital national security interest of the United States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons,” the president added.
Trump said there is “no dispute” that Syria used banned chemical weapons, violating its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention.
“Years of previous attempts at changing Assad’s behavior have all failed, and failed very dramatically,” he said. “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 Syria,” he added. “And also to end terrorism of all kinds and all types.”
According to Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis, the targets, which included hangars and fuel storage areas, were chosen with the aim of making it impossible to operate from the airfield. He said the strike was deemed successful and the airfield out of commission, CBS News reported.
“Each cruise missile carries a 1,000-pound warhead. So nearly 60 cruise missiles going off in 60 seconds amounts to 60,000 pounds of explosives in the space of 60 seconds,” CBS News’ National Security Correspondent David Martin reported.
Given that Russia is a major ally of Syria, this creates some complexities in the country.
“I think the key complexity here is: We would not want to attack a Syrian target at which there were Russian forces. We would not want to kill Russian forces in such an attack, because that obviously could lead us into a war with Russia,” former Deputy Director of the CIA Michael Morell told CBS News. “So I’m pretty confident that the Pentagon was confident that there were not Russian forces at this particular air field.”
Davis confirmed an area of the base was used to house Russian personnel. He said Russia was given advance warning of the strike, and the U.S. deliberately avoided the area of the base where the Russians live.
Casualties from the attack are unclear, but Syrian TV reports it has led to losses.
The U.S. assault took some by surprise after the president once warned as a candidate against getting pulled into the Syrian civil war, which is now in its seventh year, CBS2’s Jessica Layton reported.
Closer to home, the NYPD’s Counterterrorism unit posted a tweet, saying it is monitoring the situation.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., released a statement, saying “making sure Assad knows that when he commits such despicable atrocities he will pay a price is the right thing to do.”
“It is incumbent on the Trump administration to come up with a strategy and consult with Congress before implementing it. I salute the professionalism and skill of our Armed Forces who took action today,” he continued.
Earlier in the day, Defense Secretary James Mattis briefed Trump on military options against Syria, CBS News reported.
Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson were in Florida, where Trump met with China’s leader Xi Jinping.
“What happeneed in Syria is a disgrace to humanity,” Trump said to reporters on Air Force One Thursday while on his way to Florida. “[Assad]’s there and I guess he’s running things, so something should happen.”
The Chinese president arrived in West Palm Beach on Thursday afternoon for the leaders’ first meeting since then-candidate Trump criticized China on the campaign trail.
At a news conference Wednesday, Trump said the chemical attack changed his opinion about what to do about Syria.
Tillerson spoke out against Russia’s support of the Assad regime Thursday.
“There is no doubt in our minds… that Syria, the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad are responsible for this attack,” Tillerson said. “I think it’s very important that the Russian government consider carefully their continued support for the Assad regime.”
Tillerson’s comments came after U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley spoke out against the attack Wednesday.
“Yesterday’s attack was a new low even for the barbaric Assad regime,” Haley said. “Russia cannot escape responsibility.”
“If Russia has the influence in Syria that it claims to have, we need to see them use it,” Haley said. “We need to see them put an end to these horrific acts. How many children have to die before Russia cares?”