The United States launched a barrage of 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at about 4 am local time in a limited targeted air strike at the Shayrat military air base base in Syria, where it is believed multiple chemical weapons are being stored.
The strike was scheduled for a time that would minimize casualties, the Pentagon pointed out.
Israel Defense Forces went to high alert at the northern border, as military officials maintained a watchful stance to see how the leaders of Russia, Iran and Syria would react.
National Security Council officials told reporters late Thursday night the bombing was targeted specifically to avoid hitting the storage tanks where the chemicals was being held, in order to minimize the danger of releasing any more of the sarin nerve gas. Rather, the missiles were aimed at the airfield and runways and other targets in order to “prevent and deter the use of deadly chemical weapons.”
President Donald Trump said the strike was in “the vital national interest of the United States.” It took place just as he was bidding “good night” to his Chinese counterpart, President Xi Jinping, after a working dinner at Mar-a-lago in Florida.
In a televised speech to the nation shortly after, he said, “Tonight I ordered an air attack on the air field from where the chemical attack was launched… The region continues to destabilize, threatening the United States and its allies … I call on all civilized nations to end the slaughter in Syria and also to end terrorism of all kinds and all types.”
Each Tomahawk cruise missile carries a nuclear or conventional warhead, weighing 1,000 pounds (450 kg). The missiles were fired by the USS Porter and the USS Ross at the air base from which the Sukhoi 24 took off to drop the sarin gas on Idlib province this past Tuesday.
The Pentagon said in a statement that the Russian military was notified “using the standard deconfliction line.” A U.S. military official told Fox News Thursday night there were multiple warnings to Russia via a special hotline earlier in the day that there would be an attack on the base.
The air strike followed a lethal sarin nerve gas attack carried out by Syrian regime forces against civilians in the northern Idlib province Tuesday. “No child of God should ever suffer such horror,” Trump said.
More than 70 people died in the nightmare that followed, including dozens of babies and small children; the United Nations’ children’s agency, UNICEF, estimated that at least 546 people were wounded. Video footage of the twisted and vibrating victims was circulated around the internet, horrifying viewers and political leaders around the world. That footage, and the still photos of the tortured victims whose bodies bore the unmistakeable signs of biochemical warfare, were shown to President Trump.
While traveling Thursday to Mar-a-Lago, the president said, “I think what happened in Syria is a disgrace to humanity… He’s there and I guess he’s running things, so something should happen.” Trump left it to U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to expand on America’s actions.
Speaking with reporters from Florida prior to confirming the limited air strike, Tillerson said that Assad’s future role “is uncertain and with the acts that he has taken it would seem that there would be no role for him to govern the Syrian people.”
The American air strike was launched from two Naval naval destroyers in the Mediterranean Sea. The swift, strong response appeared to also send a curt message to North Korea and Iran as well.