WASHINGTON (CBS NEWS/AP) — The United States fired a barrage of cruise missiles onto a Syrian airbase 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 President Donald Trump’s most dramatic military order since becoming commander-in-chief.
Russia, Syrian President Bashar Assad’s most important backer on the world stage, condemned the strike as “an aggression against a sovereign state in violation of international law.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in a statement that Putin believes President Trump ordered the strikes under a “far-fetched pretext,” and Russia’s military announced it would reduce cooperation with the U.S. and bolster Assad’s air defenses in response.
In a post later Friday on social media, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said the U.S. strike had put America’s military “on the verge of fighting” directly with Russia’s.
U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley warned in an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council Friday that U.S. is prepared to take further action in Syria but hopes it will not be necessary.
Looking ahead, she says, “It is time for all civilized nations to stop the horrors that are taking place in Syria and demand a political solution.”
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.”
A total of 59 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 Jinping 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.
Charles Albert “Dutch” Ruppersberger III, the U.S. Representative for Maryland’s 2nd congressional district, says in a statement released Friday that he was notified by the White House before the missiles were launched as a member of the Defense Appropriations Committee.
“Chemical and biological weapons can’t be tolerated anywhere in the world,” he wrote. “The atrocities suffered by innocent civilians at the hands of al-Assad are despicable and impermissible. I credit our Commander in Chief and his national security team – including Secretary Mattis and H.R. McMaster – with sending an appropriate and strong message that we will stand up against such barbaric war crimes. And I salute the brave members of our Armed Forces on a mission well-executed.
I am extremely frustrated, but not surprised, to hear Russia is continuing to support the Assad regime despite its ongoing attacks on its own citizens. I would hope that Russia and Iran would stand by the international community in condemning Assad’s use of chemical weapons and cooperate in finding an appropriate way forward.
We need a larger, comprehensive strategy to address the situation in Syria, including the defeat of ISIS and the protection of our troops and intelligence workers who are in the war zone today. Earlier this week, I attended a classified briefing with Secretary Mattis and we discussed Syria and other national security matters. I have full confidence in his understanding of the issues and his leadership in the days ahead.”