United States President Donald Trump on Saturday hailed an allied pre-dawn military offensive on Syrian government targets associated with its government’s chemical weapons program as “perfectly executed”.
The U.S. worked with the United Kingdom and France to carry out strikes against three government sites: A research centre, storage compound and chemical weapons bunker facility according to the Pentagon.
The Pentagon said 105 missiles were fired starting at 4 a.m. local time at Mr. Trump announced the offensive that came in response to a purported chemical attack carried out on the town of Douma on April 7.
Russia said Britain staged the chemical attack, but the U.S. and France said they have evidence that the strike happened.
U.S. envoy to the United Nations told an emergency Security Council meeting on Saturday that Washington is “locked and loaded” if the Syrian regime uses chemical weapons, with countries denying a Russian bid to condemn the allied strikes.
A team from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, or OPCW, arrived in Syria on Saturday with the aim to independently verify that the attack happened and but will not focus on which faction carried it out.
The U.S. president said that the allies 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.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said he condemned the Western strikes “in the most serious way”, and a Syrian government official called the strikes “limited and weak” on state television.
Russia threatened military retaliation should any of its many personnel stationed to support its ally Syrian President Bashar al-Assad were hit, but no casualties have yet been reported.
Russia called a United Nations Security Council meeting for Saturday, which is currently ongoing.
“This aggression will only make Syria and its people more determined to keep fighting and crushing terrorism in every inch of the country,” Mr. Assad said.
“A perfectly executed strike last night. Thank you to France and the United Kingdom for their wisdom and the power of their fine Military,” the U.S. president tweeted on Saturday morning.
“Could not have had a better result. Mission Accomplished!”
A Pentagon briefing soon after Trump’s tweets said the strikes had “set the Syrian chemical weapons programme back for years” in what is considered the largest attack against the Syrian regime since the civil war started seven years ago.
At a Pentagon briefing on Saturday, U.S. Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie listed the three targets that had been struck in a what he called a “precise, overwhelming and effective” manner:
- The Barzah chemical weapons research and development centre near Damascus was hit by 76 missiles, 57 of them Tomahawk cruise missiles, and “destroyed”
- The Him Shinshar chemical weapons storage facility near Homs was hit by 22 “weapons” – U.S., U.K. and French
- The Him Shinshar chemical weapons bunker facility near Homs was targeted with seven Scout missiles and was “successfully hit”
Gen McKenzie said the “initial indications are that we accomplished the military objectives without interference from Syria” despite Syrian claims that they shot down some of the missiles.
The Russian defense ministry said in their press conference that 103 cruise missiles had been launched and 71 were shot down by Syrian military systems, with Moscow tracking U.S. and British forces, but not the French.
The ministry said that initial intelligence gave no indication of Syrian army or civilian casualties and the Pentagon also said it had no reports of any killed.
Moscow did however admit that “alleged chemical weapons facilities” near the Syrian capital Damascus and Homs, further north, were “partially destroyed”.
Russia said other locations in Syria were targeted but not hit, including Damascus International Airport, the al-Dumayr and Blai airdromes and the Shayrat air base.
Image of the damage of the Syrian Scientific Research Centre in Barzeh from SANA state news agency.