(CNSNews.com) – U.S. Navy destroyers on Thursday night fired almost 60 Tomahawk missiles at a Syrian military airbase in Homs province, in the first deliberate U.S. military assault on the Assad regime.
“Tonight, I ordered a targeted military strike on the airfield in Syria from where the chemical attack was launched [on Tuesday],” President Trump said in a televised statement from his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida.
“It is in the vital national security interest of the United States to prevent and deter the spread or use of deadly chemical weapons.”
The missiles targeting the Shayrat airbase were fired from the guided missile destroyers USS Porter and USS Ross, deployed in the eastern Mediterranean Sea.
The action came just over two days after a chemical weapons attack in Khan Sheikhun, Idlib province left more than 70 people dead. The U.S. and other Western governments have blamed President Bashar al-Assad for the atrocity. Syria denies responsibility, and its ally Russia claimed the toxic gas came from a rebel storage facility bombed by Assad’s air force.
Thursday’s strike also comes 1,325 days after the last major chemical weapons attack blamed on the regime, when more than 1,400 were killed in Ghouta, near Damascus.
And it comes 1,691 days after President Obama declared that the use of chemical weapons in the Syrian conflict would be “a red line.”
“Assad choked out the lives of helpless men, women and children,” Trump said in the statement. “Even beautiful babies were cruelly murdered at this very barbaric attack. No child of God should ever suffer such horror.”
The Department of Defense said 59 Tomahawk missiles “targeted aircraft, hardened aircraft shelters, petroleum and logistical storage, ammunition supply bunkers, air defense systems, and radars.”
“As always, the U.S. took extraordinary measures to avoid civilian casualties and to comply with the Law of Armed Conflict,” said Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis. “Every precaution was taken to execute this strike with minimal risk to personnel at the airfield.”
Davis said the U.S. intelligence community believes the Syrian aircraft involved in Tuesday’s chemical attack took off from Shayrat airbase, which he said “was used to store chemical weapons and Syrian air forces.”
“The strike was a proportional response to Assad's heinous act.”
Davis also said Russian forces operating in Syria were notified in advance, and that the planners of the strike took precautions to minimize risk to Russian and Syrian personnel at the airbase.
He said early indications were that the missile strike “severely damaged or destroyed Syrian aircraft and support infrastructure and equipment at Shayrat airfield, reducing the Syrian government’s ability to deliver chemical weapons. The use of chemical weapons against innocent people will not be tolerated.”
In August 20, 2012, President Obama established a “red line” regarding the use of chemical weapons in the Syrian civil war.
“We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized,” he told reporters.
“We cannot have a situation where chemical or biological weapons are falling into the hands of the wrong people,” he said. “That would change my calculus. That would change my equation.”
One year later to the day (the early hours of Aug. 21, 2013 Syria time), the Ghouta attack occurred. It was the deadliest chemical warfare attack since the Iran-Iraq war during the 1980s.
Obama signaled his intention to carry out punitive strikes but never went ahead. Instead, then-Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart negotiated an agreement for Assad to surrender his declared chemical weapons, and the promised military strikes never materialized.
President Trump’s Thursday night statement follows in full:
“My fellow Americans,
“On Tuesday, Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad launched a horrible chemical weapons attack on innocent civilians 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 — even beautiful babies were cruelly murdered in this very barbaric attack. No child of God should ever suffer such horror.
“Tonight I ordered a targeted military strike on the airfield in Syria from where the chemical attack was launched. It is in this vital national security interest of the United States: to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons.
“There can be no dispute that Syria used banned chemical weapons, violated its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention, and ignored the urging of the U.N. Security Council.
“Years of previous attempts at changing Assad’s behavior have all failed and failed very dramatically. 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, and also to end terrorism of all kinds and all types. We ask for God’s wisdom as we face the challenge of our very troubled world.
We pray for the lives of the wounded and for the souls of those who have passed. And we hope that as long as America stands for justice, then peace and harmony will in the end prevail. Good night, and God bless America and the entire world. Thank you.”