The United States, United Kingdom and France launched airstrikes late on Friday targeting sites associated with Syrian government chemical facilities in retaliation to an alleged chemical weapons attack earlier this month.
After days of speculation, U.S. President Donald Trump said in an address to the nation that allied forces had launched “precision strikes” following the April 7 Syrian chemical strike that the World Health Organization reports may have affected some 500.
“The purpose of our actions tonight is to establish a strong deterrent against the production, spread and use of chemical weapons. Establishing this deterrent is a vital national security interest of the United States,” Mr. Trump said.
The U.S. president said that the allied forces were “prepared to sustain this response until the Syrian regime stops its use of prohibited chemical agents”, with the Pentagon later clarifying that Friday’s strikes were a “one-time shot” dependant on Damascus.
A research centre, two chemical weapons facilities and a command force centre were struck by allied forces, according to the Pentagon.
A Russian official said that the Kremlin takes the attack on Syria as “an act of aggression” and “won’t remain without consequence”, reported Sputnik.
Further action by allied forces relies on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and whether he disgards his chemical weapons, said U.S. officials.
After the allied naval, air force and artillery effort, a Syrian government official called the U.S.-led offensive “limited and weak” on state television.
Another official said that the sites targeted by the allies were abandoned days ago.
Explosions rocked Syria’s capital Damascus and several other sites such as Homs, starting around 4 a.m. local time, with Syrian air defense weapons active.
During a press conference at the Pentagon, U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis made clear officials have not confirmed use of sarin or nerve agent on the Douma attack, and only said he is “not ruling out sarin”.
Gen. Mattis said that more details would be coming around 9 a.m. ET on Saturday morning.
U.S. General Dunford said that Russia was not pre-notified and there was no coordination with Moscow over the strikes.
U.S. defense officials told media that both warships and warplanes engaged in the offensive: Utilizing both cruise missiles along with air force weaponry.
The Russian envoy to the United States said that “the worst apprehensions have come true” over the offensive, said that “all responsibility rests with Washington, London and Paris.”
The United Kingdom and France confirmed their participation in released statements, with both British Prime Minister Theresa May and French counterpart Emmanuel Macron saying they had authorized military action.
“Tonight, I ask all American to say a prayer for our noble warriors and our allies as they carry out their missions. We pray that God will bring comfort to those suffering in Syria,” Mr. Trump said on national television.
Although Washington and its allies say they have proof the banned chemical weaponry was utilized on April 7, Russia said it was carried out by the British and Syria denied involvement.
A team from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons were to arrive in Douma where the purported chemical strike occured on Saturday, but it is not known what the status of their probe would be following the allied offensive.
There are no reports of casualties at this time.
More details to follow. Image of strikes on Damascus from the Associated Press.