The U.S. military, joined by its counterparts in France and Britain, launched a sweeping missile strike against Syria on Friday night, making good on a series of threats from President Trump prompted by the Middle Eastern country’s latest chemical attack on its own people.
“The purpose of our actions tonight is to establish a strong deterrent against the production, spread and use of chemical weapons,” the President said in a televised national address. “We are prepared to sustain this response until the Syrian regime stops its use of prohibited chemical agents.”
Explosions were heard in and around Damascus moments after the strikes were announced.
Trump has threatened to attack Syria since a poison gas assault in the town of Douma, one of the last rebel strongholds in the war-torn nation.
Opposition activists blamed Syrian President Bashar Assad, claiming government helicopters on April 7 dropped barrel bombs filled with deadly chemicals on unsuspecting civilians, killing at least 40 people, many of whom were children.
The Iranian and Russian governments, which support Assad, have been accused of being complicit in the attack.
“To Iran and to Russia, I ask: what kind of a nation wants to be associated with the mass murder of innocent men, women and children?” Trump said. “The nations of the world can be judged by the friends they keep. No nation can succeed in the long run by promoting brutal tyrants and murderous dictators.”
Syrian and Russian government officials have denied responsibility, but Trump still put them on notice a day after the April 7 attack and continued with online warnings throughout the week.
Concern over conflict quickly gave way to confusion Thursday, when the President appeared to walk back his vehement threats.
“Never said an attack on Syria would take place. Could be very soon or not at all,” he wrote. “In any event, the United States, under my administration, has done a great job of ridding the region of ISIS. Where is our ‘Thank you America?’”
(Graphic): Dozens killed after suspected poison gas attack in Syria
As the U.S. and its allies mulled over retaliatory strikes, 12 U.S. Navy ships made their way to the region Friday afternoon.
The move prompted a response from Moscow and Syrian leaders, who promised to fight back in the event of an attack.
The missile strike marks the second time the U.S. has retaliated against the country’s use of deadly chemical weapons since Trump took up residence in the White House.
The U.S. military on April 7, 2017 aimed more than 50 missiles at a Syrian airfield — the source of a chemical attack launched days earlier.
More than 80 people, including 30 children and 20 women, were killed in the nerve gas attack in Khan Sheikhoun, located in the rebel-held province of Idlib.
The Republican President’s response was a noted shift in policy and the first direct U.S. attack on the Syrian government since the civil war unfolded in 2011.
More than 500,000 people have died in the years-long uprising, with millions more fleeing to find safety in Europe and beyond.
The President promised that this would not be a quick strike like the last one.
“We are prepared to sustain this response until the Syrian regime stops its use of prohibited chemical agents. No nation can succeed in the long run by promoting brutal tyrants and murderous dictators,” the President said.