WASHINGTON (WJZ/AP) — The United States fired a barrage of cruise missiles into Syria Thursday night in retaliation for this week’s gruesome chemical weapons attack against civilians, U.S. officials said. It was the first direct American assault on the Syrian government and Donald Trump’s most dramatic military order since becoming president.
The surprise strike marked a striking reversal for Trump, who warned as a candidate against the U.S. getting pulled into the Syrian civil war, now in its seventh year. But the president appeared moved by the photos of children killed in the chemical attack, calling it a “disgrace to humanity” that crossed “a lot of lines.”
About 60 U.S. Tomahawk missiles, fired from warships in the Mediterranean Sea, targeted an air base in retaliation for a chemical weapons attack that American officials believe Syrian government aircraft launched with a nerve agent, possibly sarin.
The president did not announce the attacks in advance, though he and other national security officials ratcheted up their warnings to the Syrian government throughout the day Thursday.
“I think what happened in Syria is one of the truly egregious crimes and shouldn’t have happened and it shouldn’t be allowed to happen,” Trump told reporters traveling on Air Force One to Florida, where he was holding a two-day summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
The strike came as Trump was hosting Xi in meetings focused in part on another pressing U.S. security dilemma: North Korea’s nuclear program. Trump’s actions in Syria could signal to China that the new president isn’t afraid of unilateral military steps. even if key nations like China are standing in the way.
U.S. Senator Ben Cardin released a statement on the U.S. bombing of a Syrian airfield:
“Tonight I was informed by the White House that the targeted bombing of a Syrian airfield was underway.
“These military strikes against Assad’s arsenal send a clear signal that the United States will stand up for internationally accepted norms and rules against the use of chemical weapons. The Joint Investigative Mechanism of the United Nations-Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons has confirmed multiple times that Assad regime forces have used chemical weapons against the Syrian people.
“However, and I cannot emphasize this enough, any longer-term or larger military operation in Syria by the Trump Administration will need to be done in consultation with the Congress. Furthermore, it is the President’s responsibility to inform the legislative branch and the American people about his larger policy in Syria, as well as the legal basis for this action and any additional military activities in that country.
“Going forward, I will work with my colleagues in the Senate to have the Administration clearly articulate a comprehensive strategy for Syria that includes a plan for ending this war and removing Assad. He must be held accountable for his actions, along with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“Russia and China have repeatedly blocked collective action through the UN Security Council. Inside Syria, Russia and Iran are complicit in Assad’s war crimes and crimes against humanity by their direct military intervention in support of his regime.
“The United States must lead the international community in a negotiated settlement that ends this war and facilitates Assad’s removal. This can only be done through a political process, not a military campaign.”