WASHINGTON (CBSNewYork/CBSNews) — The United States launched “precision” military strikes Friday in Syria, in response to a suspected chemical weapons attack that killed dozens last weekend.
“A short time ago, I ordered the U.S. Armed Forces to launch precision strikes on targets associated with the chemical weapons capabilities of Syrian dictator, Bashar al-Assad,” President Donald Trump said from the White House. “A combined operation with the armed forces of France and the United Kingdom is now under way.”
The president said the U.S. is “prepared to sustain this response until the Syrian regime stops its use of prohibited chemical agents.”
“The purpose of our actions tonight is to establish a strong deterrent against the production, spread and use of chemical weapons,” he said. “Establishing this deterrent is a vital national security interest of the United States.”
Trump also had strong words for Syria’s allies.
“To Iran and Russia I ask, what kind of nation wants to be associated with the mass murder of innocent men, women and children?” he said. “The nations of the world can be judged by the fiends they keep.”
Syria has denied responsibility for the alleged gas attack. Russia said it visited the sight of the suspected attack and found no evidence to support the claims.
“Syria’s responsible. We are all in agreement,” State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said earlier Friday.
The president called the alleged attack a “massacre” and said it was a “significant escalation in a pattern of chemical weapons use by that very terrible regime.”
“The evil and despicable attack left mothers and fathers, infants and children thrashing in pain and gasping for air,” he said. “These are not the actions of a man. They are crimes of a monster instead.”
In a Pentagon briefing late Friday night, Secretary of Defense James Mattis said this was a “one-time shot” and the first wave of airstrikes was over. He also said there were “no reports of losses” on the part of the U.S. and its allies.
“I want to emphasize that these strikes are directed at the Syrian regime,” he said. “In conducting these strikes, we have gone to great lengths to avoid civilian and foreign casualties.”
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Joseph Dunford said the three target areas included a scientific research center in Damascus, a chemical weapons storage facility west of Homs and a nearby storage facility with chemical weapons equipment.
“Important infrastructure was destroyed, which 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,” he said.
This is the second time Trump has retaliated against the Assad regime for using chemical weapons against civilians. Last April, he ordered the strike of nearly 60 Tomahawk missiles that destroyed a Syrian air base.
In the days since the latest attack, the president repeatedly warned a military strike was possible.
Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Anatoly Antonov said in a statement, “such actions will not be left without consequences.”
“The worst apprehensions have come true. Our warnings have been left unheard. A pre-designed scenario is being implemented. Again, we are being threatened. We warned that such actions will not be left without consequences,” the statement read. “All responsibility for them rests with Washington, London and Paris. Insulting the President of Russia is unacceptable and inadmissible. The U.S. – the possessor of the biggest arsenal of chemical weapons – has no moral right to blame other countries.”
Meanwhile, Syrian state TV called the strikes a “blatant violation of international law.”
“NATO has consistently condemned Syria’s continued use of chemical weapons as a clear breach of international norms and agreements. The use of chemical weapons is unacceptable, and those responsible must be held accountable,” NATO Sec. Gen. Jens Stoltenberg said in a statement. “NATO considers the use of chemical weapons as a threat to international peace and security, and believes that it is essential to protect the Chemical Weapons Convention. This calls for a collective and effective response by the international community.”
The NYPD said it is closely monitoring the situation in Syria.
“There is no nexus to New York City, nor are there any credible threats to New York City, at this time. Counterterror officers have been deployed in and around the City out of an abundance of caution,” the department said in a statement.
Congressman Peter King, of Long Island, said he “fully supports” the president’s decision.
Sen. Cory Booker, of New Jersey, however, said he was “deeply concerned.”
“President Trump continues to conduct military operations without any comprehensive strategy or the necessary congressional authorization. Every American, and particularly our men and women in uniform and their families, deserve far better than action without debate, accountability, and a Constitutionally-required authorization for the use of military force,” he said in a statement.
Check back with CBSNewYork.com for more on this developing story.