President Donald Trump on Friday ordered the United States military — in conjunction with France and the United Kingdom — to launch strikes on Syria in retaliation for a suspected chemical weapons attack by the regime of President Bashar al-Assad on a Damascus suburb last week.
The president did not specify a target for the strikes, but said the United States would aim to hit sites “associated with the chemical weapons capabilities” of Assad’s regime.
“We are prepared to sustain this response until the Syrian regime stops its use of prohibited chemical agents,” Trump said in remarks from the White House, adding that the U.S. and its allies had “marshaled their righteous power.”
Trump urged Iran and Russia to withdraw their support for what he called Syria’s “barbarism and brutality.”
In a direct address to the two countries, he asked: “What kind of a nation wants to be associated with the mass murder of innocent men and women and children?”
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the strike was larger and more elaborate than the one the Trump administration carried out a year ago. The Friday attack targeted scientific research centers, several military bases and numerous places where the Syrian Republican Guard and members of Syria’s 4th Armored Division were located, according to the Observatory.
Explosions were being heard to the east, west and south of Damascus, and witnesses saw blasts surrounding much of the Syrian capital and a huge fire could be seen from a distance to the east. An AP reporter in Damascus said the attacks turned the sky orange. Syrian television also reported that a scientific research center had been hit.
The British Armed Forces said they scrambled four Royal Air Force Tornado GR4s to launch Storm Shadow missiles at a missile facility where the Syrian regime is believed to be storing chemical weapons.
Witnesses in Syria reported hearing explosions around Damascus late Friday night.
The suspected nerve agent attack in the city of Douma in eastern Ghouta on April 7 killed dozens of people, including children, local activists have told NBC News. Syria and Russia have denied any involvement in the alleged attack.
Upwards of 500,000 people are thought to have died in the seven-year Syria civil war, a conflict that has also driven millions from their homes. The war has sucked in a number of actors — including Russia, Iran and Iran-backed Lebanese militia Hezbollah on the side of Assad.
Russia’s 2015 decision to enter the conflict, backing Assad, turned the tide of the war and helped government forces recapture much of the territory held by rebels.
Trump has both in the past and recently expressed eagerness to get all American troops out of Syria — but he described the latest alleged attack as “mindless” in a series of tweets last weekend. And in an unusual criticism of Russia’s president, he said “Putin, Russia and Iran are responsible for backing Animal Assad. Big price to pay.”
His previous desire for a rapid withdrawal drew unanimous opposition from the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Pentagon, the State Department and the intelligence community, who’ve argued that keeping the 2,000 U.S. soldiers currently in Syria is key to ensuring that the ISIS terror group does not make a comeback.
The president on Monday had condemned the suspected chemical attack, calling it a “heinous” act and saying his administration would soon make “major decisions” on how to respond.
Last year, Trump said that the use of chemical weapons in Syria “crosses a lot of lines for me.”
On April 6, 2017, the Trump administration launched strikes on a Syrian-government airfield in retaliation for a chemical attack on the town of Khan Sheikhoun.
This is a breaking news story.