Trump strikes Syria – POLITICO
President Donald Trump made good on his threats to attack Syria Friday night, launching what he called “precision strikes” against three chemical weapons sites in a military action certain to enrage Russia and raise new questions about his Middle East strategy.
Trump announced the strikes in a somber televised address less than a week after a suspected chemical weapons attack against civilians that U.S. officials attribute to Syrian leader Bashar Assad’s regime.
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“These are not the actions of a man,” Trump said, referring to Assad. “They are crimes of a monster.”
Though more substantial than an April 2017 attack Trump ordered on a Syrian airbase—also as punishment for the use of chemical weapons against civilians—Friday’s strike was relatively limited and did not signal a new phase of American involvement in Syria, where Trump’s larger strategic goals remain unclear.
Although Trump said Friday that he is “prepared to sustain this response,” he also stressed that he does not intend to stay long in war-torn Syria, where he has recently spoken of withdrawing the roughly 2,000 troops fighting the Islamic State .
“America does not seek an indefinite presence in Syria — under no circumstances,” he said.
At a Pentagon briefing late Friday night, Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. James Dunford said the strikes were limited to Syrian chemical weapons facilities and did not target Syrian troops or military assets.
While Syrian air defenses did fire at some U.S. aircraft or missiles, Mattis said there had been “no reports of losses.” And despite previous threats from Moscow to shoot down U.S. cruise missiles, Dunford said he was not aware of any Russian military response.
Dunford added that the U.S. had used a pre-existing “deconfliction” line of communication with Moscow, adding: “We did not do any coordination with the Russians on the strike, nor did we pre-notify them.”
Flanked by Dunford and the British and French defense attaches, whose militaries assisted the U.S. operation, Mattis called the attacks a “one-time shot.”
The attacks were on a smaller scale than some analysts had predicted, reasoning that Trump needed to send a tougher signal than he did a year ago given that his last strike had clearly not deterred Assad’s continued use of chemical weapons as a tool to put down an armed rebellion that has raged since early 2011.
Mattis said his confidence that the Syrian regime was responsible for the recent chemical attacks increased yesterday, after congressional testimony in which he suggested a degree of doubt. “We are very confident that chlorine was used. We are not ruling our sarin right now,” he said.
In his eight-minute statement, Trump blamed Russia directly for the chemical attacks, saying it hadn’t done enough to stop Assad.
“Russia must decide if it will continue down this dark path or if it will join with civilized nations as a force for stability and peace,” Trump said, as his new national security adviser, John Bolton, looked on.
The strike is a response to a suspected chemical weapons attack in in the Syrian town of Douma, north of the capital of Damascus. The attack, which Trump called “evil and despicable,” killed dozens of people.
Dunford said that the strikes began at 9pm Eastern Time and involved both cruise missiles and manned aircraft. The U.S. struck three different targets in the attack, Dunford said: a scientific research center outside Damascus, a chemical weapons facility west of Homs and an equipment storage facility and command post.
Other Syrian checmical weapons facilities were not struck, Dunford said, due to concerns about harming civilians.
Asked if the strike will be part of prolonged military action in Syria, Mattis said “that will depend on Mr. Assad.”
British Prime Minister Theresa May said in a statement that the Syrian regime “has a history of using chemical weapons against its own people in the most cruel and abhorrent way. And a significant body of information including intelligence indicates the Syrian Regime is responsible for this latest attack.”
“This persistent pattern of behavior must be stopped,” May said, adding that “we cannot allow the erosion of the international norm that prevents the use of these weapons.”
Trump also said Friday’s strike was intended to establish a “strong deterrent” against the future use of chemical weapons.
That is no sure thing, analysts warn: One concern among western officials is that Assad will lay low and avoid using chemical weapons for a while—before returning to them after international attention shifts. Some critics also question why the U.S. and its allies are moved to action by chemical weapons but not horrific conventional attacks on hospitals and civilian neighborhoods.
The Russian Ambassador to Washington, Anatoly Antonov, warned the U.S. and its allies that “such actions will not be left without consequences.” In a statement, he also appeared to implicitly chide Trump, saying that “insulting the President of Russia is unacceptable and inadmissible.”
Earlier this week Trump, who has spent most of his presidency avoiding publicly criticizing Russia or Vladimir Putin, called out the Russian president by name on Twitter, saying he was among those “responsible for backing Animal Assad.”