US Launches Precision Strikes in Response to Syrian Chemical Attack

  • The Damascus sky lights up with missile fire as the U.S. launches an attack on Syria, targeting different parts of the capital early Saturday, April 14, 2018. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)
    The Damascus sky lights up with missile fire as the U.S. launches an attack on Syria, targeting different parts of the capital early Saturday, April 14, 2018. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)
  • President Donald Trump speaks in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House on Friday, April 13, 2018, in Washington, about the United States' military response to Syria's chemical weapons attack on April 7. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
    President Donald Trump speaks in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House on Friday, April 13, 2018, in Washington, about the United States' military response to Syria's chemical weapons attack on April 7. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
  • Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford speaks as Defense Secretary Jim Mattis listens at the Pentagon, Friday, April 13, 2018, on the U.S. military response to Syria's chemical weapons attack on April 7.​ (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
    Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford speaks as Defense Secretary Jim Mattis listens at the Pentagon, Friday, April 13, 2018, on the U.S. military response to Syria's chemical weapons attack on April 7.​ (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

PENTAGON, Washington, D.C. -- Deliberate U.S. airstrikes were launched on three separate Syrian targets in response to a deadly chemical attack believed to be instigated by the regime of Syrian dictator Bashar Al-Assad, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Friday night.

"These strikes are directed at the Syrian regime," Mattis told reporters during a briefing at the Pentagon alongside Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford. "We looked at targets specifically designed to address the chemical weapons threat."

Citing defense officials, Fox News reported that, in addition to missiles launched from U.S. Navy warships, B-1B Lancer bombers took part in the strike, meant to send a mission of using strategic bombers against a chemical weapons attack. USNI News reported that the guided-missile destroyer Donald Cook (DDG 75) and an unidentified Ticonderoga-class cruiser launched Tomahawk cruise missiles into Syria.

Neither Dunford nor Mattis would confirm which U.S. platforms were used in the strike, but acknowledged a mix of systems -- to include manned aircraft -- were used for the "heavy strike."

"Clearly, the Assad regime didn't get the message last year," Mattis said, referring to the missile strike last April in which two U.S. Navy destroyers in the eastern Mediterranean Sea fired 60 Tomahawks at a Syrian airfield in response to a previous chemical attack.

Dunford said initial military reports from officials in the Central Command area of operations suggest that Syrian surface-to-air missile artillery attempted to engage incoming targets. But the Pentagon has no reports of U.S. or allied losses at this time, he said.

Dunford said the U.S. had used deconfliction channels with Russia during the strike, but only to deconflict airspace.

"We did not coordinate targets or any planning with the Russians," the general said.

Pentagon leaders said the strike is intended to be limited in scope, and that no additional military strikes against the Assad regime are being planned at this time. Mattis and Dunford demurred on whether additional strikes could continue depending on Assad’s response, or a military response from Russian troops operating in the area.

More strikes "will depend on Mr. Assad should he decide to use more chemical weapons in the future," Mattis said.

Earlier Friday night, President Donald Trump confirmed the strikes in a public address, saying the United States has launched "precision strikes" and was collaborating with France and the United Kingdom to respond to the recent "massacre" in Douma on April 7.

Trump did not say what U.S. weapons or platforms were employed, but said the targets were ones "associated with the chemical capabilities" of Assad.

Mattis said the allies struck “chemical weapons-type targets” at roughly 9 p.m. Eastern time, including a scientific research and chemical bio-weapons lab near Damascus, as well as two other chemical weapons storage and equipment facilities both near Homs.

"I am confident the Syrian regime conducted a chemical attack on the Syrian people," Mattis said. He added investigators on Thursday were "very confident" chlorine was used, but said officials were still looking into whether sarin was also used as an attack agent.

"We’re not ruling out sarin," Mattis said.

In eloquent prepared remarks, Trump condemned Assad's activities and held Russia and Iran accountable for their support of the regime.

"This massacre was a significant escalation in a pattern of chemical weapons use by that very terrible regime," Trump said. "The evil and the despicable attack left mothers, fathers, infants and children thrashing in pain and gasping for air. These are not the actions of a man. These are crimes of a monster instead."

Trump expressed thanks to both France and the United Kingdom for participating in the military effort.

The United States, he said, was prepared to sustain its military response "until the Syrian regime stops its use of ... chemical agents."

Trump had a strong rebuke for Russia and Iran, singling out Russia in particular for failure to hold Assad accountable.

"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. "No nation can succeed in the long run by promoting rogue states, brutal tyrants and murderous dictators."

Mattis said the U.S. had gone to "great lengths" to avoid civilian and foreign casualties in conducting strikes on the Syrian regime.

The first Russian response to the strikes came from the Russian Embassy in Washington, about a half mile from the White House.

Anatoly Antonov, the Russian ambassador to the U.S., warned in a statement that the U.S., France and Russia would suffer undefined "consequences" for their joint action and accused the U.S. of hypocrisy for condemning the use of chemical weapons while maintaining its own arsenal of banned weapons.

"A pre-designed scenario is being implemented" by the U.S. and its allies, Antonov said. "Again, we are being threatened. We warned that such actions will not be left without consequences."

Trump’s order to execute the strikes Friday night followed several consultations with French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Theresa May to coordinate their actions. Trump spoke again with May late Thursday night and again with Macron on Friday afternoon, White House spokesperson Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said.

Earlier this week, May gained the backing of her Cabinet to use both Royal Air Force attack aircraft and  submarine-launched cruise missiles to strike Syrian targets once a decision was made to take action.

On Thursday, Mattis said the U.S. was still waiting on definitive proof that Syria was responsible but Sanders said "We’re again confident that Syria had responsibility in this chemical weapons attack."

An updated briefing on how the U.S. and allies will progress in Syria is expected Saturday morning, Mattis said.

-- Hope Hodge Seck contributed to this report.

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