US fires Tomahawk cruise missiles into Syria in retaliation against gas attack

The missiles targeted an airfield used by Syrian government aircraft that had dropped the bombs carrying gas on Idlib province, and they were fired late on Thursday around the time President Donald Trump was meeting president Xi Jinping.
The US fired Tomahawk cruise missiles into Syria in a retaliatory strike against the(AFP File/ Representational Photo)
The US fired Tomahawk cruise missiles into Syria in a retaliatory strike against the(AFP File/ Representational Photo)
Updated on Apr 07, 2017 09:53 AM IST
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Yashwant Raj, Washington | By

The United States fired 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles into Syria Thursday night in a massive retaliatory strike against the horrific sarin nerve gas attack that killed more than 70 people, a third of them children, earlier in the week.

The missiles targeted an airfield used by Syrian government aircraft that had dropped the bombs carrying gas on Idlib province, and they were fired late on Thursday around the time President Donald Trump was meeting president Xi Jinping.

President Trump announced the strikes in a statement, saying it was in “vital national security interest of the US to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons”.

Here is the full text of his remarks:

“On Tuesday Syrian President Bashar al-Assad launched a horrible chemical 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 at 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 UN Security Council.

“Numerous previous attempts at changing Assad’s behavior have all found 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 asked 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 passed. And we hope as long as America stands for justice and peace and harmony will in the end prevail. Good night and God Bless America and the entire world.”

The strike targeted Shayrat Airfield in Homs and used Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles, Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis said in a statement, launched from destroyers USS Porter and USS Ross in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea.

A total of 59 missiles targeted aircraft, hardened aircraft shelters, petroleum and logistical storage, ammunition supply bunkers, air defense systems, and radars, he added.

The Pentagon believes Shayrat Airfield was used to store chemical weapons and Syrian air forces and the US intelligence community assessed that aircraft from Shayrat conducted the chemical weapons attack on April 4.

“The strike was intended to deter the regime from using chemical weapons again,” Davis said.

Russians stationed at the air base were notified in advance of the strike using the established deconfliction line, but the US insisted there was no direct contact with Moscow. “US military planners took precautions to minimize risk to Russian or Syrian personnel located at the airfield, Davis said.

On way to Florida to meet Xi, Trump had signaled an impending attack when he told reporters on Air Force One, “I think what happened in Syria is a disgrace to humanity, and he’s (Bashar al-Assad) there, and I guess he’s running things, so I guess something should happen.”

He had added: “What Assad did is terrible. What happened in Syria is truly one of the egregious crimes and it shouldn’t have happened. And it shouldn’t be allow to happen.” The bombing followed a few hours later.

The president had refused to discuss details of his plans, but multiple US media outlets had reported defense secretary James Mattis and the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff Joseph F Dunford had prepared options for the president to chose from.

Security experts had, before the strikes, flagged the risk of hitting Russian and Iranian military personnel known to be working with Syrians, which the president will have to consider before ordering a strike to prevent an unintended escalation.

But the administration looked determined to respond in some fashion. “We are considering an appropriate response for this chemical weapons attack,” Secretary of state Rex Tillerson told reporters. “A serious matter requires a serious response.”

Tillerson, who only days ago said Syrians will decide Assad’s fate — indicating the US was dropped its regime-change policy, effected a quick re-turnaround when he said “it would seem there would be no role for him to govern the Syrian people”.

He went on to say, “We are considering an appropriate response for this chemical weapons attack.” That remark was being taken to indicate the likelihood of a military strike which might not cause Assad’s exit, but could deal him a massive blow.

Two Republican senators, John McCain and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, praised the strike and urged the president go after “Assad’s air force — which is responsible not just for the latest chemical weapons attack, but countless atrocities against the Syrian people —completely out of the fight”.

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