US strikes Syrian airfield in first direct military action against Assad


Dozens of Tomahawk missiles have been launched at a government airfield in the wake of the Syrian leaders use of chemical weapons against civilians

The US military has launched a heavy cruise missile attack on a Syrian airfield, in retaliation against Bashar al-Assads latest indiscriminate use of chemical weapons.

Donald Trump, who for years signaled his comfort with leaving Assad in power, abruptly switched course after seeing images of children gassed to death in Idlib province after Assad unleashed sarin gas on civilians.

The strike, which comprised 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles launched from the guided-missile destroyers USS Ross and Porter in the eastern Mediterranean, marked the first time the US has become a direct combatant against the Syrian regime.

An airfield at al-Shayrat near Homs was targeted, signaling a limited initial engagement on a target the military said was used to launch the sarin attack.

Though the US did target some of Syrias formidable air defenses, it did not do so largely beyond al-Shayrat or in a sustained barrage, as it would typically do before launching a concerted airpower campaign. Instead, the Pentagon said, it attacked aircraft, hardened aircraft shelters, petroleum and logistical storage, ammunition supply bunkers, air defense systems, and radars at the airfield.

Though Trump lacked both congressional and international authorization for the strike, prominent US politicians immediately lent him political cover.

Trump said Thursday night at his Mar-a-Lago resort that he had ordered a targeted military strike on the airfield in Syria from where the chemical attack was launched.

After a frantic day of consultation with his military advisers, including defense secretary James Mattis and national security adviser HR McMaster, Trump said it was a vital national security interest of the US to prevent the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons after previous efforts at changing Assads behavior had failed, and failed very dramatically.

Yet Trump also called on the international community to join us in seeking to end the slaughter and bloodshed in Syria and also to end terrorism of all kinds and all types, leaving it unclear whether the US objective was retaliation for the sarin gas assault, destruction of Assads chemical stockpiles, or a push to oust Assad from power.

For its part, the Pentagon said the strike was intended to deter the regime from using chemical weapons again.

On Tuesday, dozens of civilians, including 10 children, were killed, apparently by a nerve agent attack on the town of Khan Sheikhun, in a region held by the rebels who oppose Assads regime.

Trump had already warned that his view had been changed by the shocking television images of children. And the attack came even while he was hosting the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, at Trumps Mar-a-Lago home in Florida.

The attack was apparently launched at about 8.40pm eastern standard time 4.40am in Syria.