Pentagon: No Civilians Killed in Syria Attack

The guided-missile cruiser USS Monterey (CG 61) fires a Tomahawk land attack missile April 14, 2018. (U.S. Navy/Lt. j.g. Matthew Daniels)
The guided-missile cruiser USS Monterey (CG 61) fires a Tomahawk land attack missile April 14, 2018. (U.S. Navy/Lt. j.g. Matthew Daniels)

No civilians were killed in the U.S. and allied strikes on suspected Syrian chemical weapons facilities last week, Pentagon officials said Wednesday.

The April 14 strikes, led by the U.S. in coordination with France and Britain, "were successful in degrading" Assad's ability to use chemical weapons against his enemies, Dana White, the Pentagon's chief spokesperson, said. They were carried out, she said, "without a single report of a civilian casualty."

But while the 105 weapons deployed in the operation met their targets, the strikes left President Bashar al-Assad with the ability to carry out more attacks, they added.

Marine Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, who joined White at a Pentagon briefing, said that Assad retained a "residual capacity" to conduct more attacks despite the success of the allied response to the barrel bombing on the town of Douma east of Damascus earlier this month.

Assad's remaining chemical weapons arsenal was "probably spread throughout the country at a variety of sites," McKenzie said. "[The Syrian regime] will have the ability to conduct limited attacks in the future. I would not rule that out."

"However," he added, "as they contemplate the dynamics of conducting those attacks, they've got to look over their shoulder and be worried that we're looking at them and we'll have the ability to strike them again should it be necessary."

White and McKenzie dismissed Russian claims that the air defense systems it sold to the Syrians intercepted as many as 71 of the 105 cruise missiles fired at three suspected chemical weapons sites -- one near Damascus and two outside the city of Homs, about 90 miles north of Damascus.

"As we expected, Russia immediately began a disinformation campaign" shortly after the cruise missiles hit their targets, White said. "The Russian-manufactured air defense systems were totally ineffective."

McKenzie also sought to clear up questions on the role that the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer Donald Cook may have played in the strikes.

The Cook was the only U.S. destroyer known to be in the eastern Mediterranean last Friday, but did not fire any missiles, leading to speculation that the ship may have served as a decoy.

While the Cook was in the Mediterranean, U.S. destroyers in the Red Sea and the northern Arabian Sea played a leading role in the missile launches.

Last April, in a previous strike ordered by President Donald Trump, the destroyers Ross and Porter fired a total of 59 Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles (TLAMs) at a Syrian airfield in response to a suspected chemical attack by Assad's forces with the nerve agent sarin.

Prior to the missile strikes last week, which Trump warned about in advance in a series of tweets, Gen. Valery Gerasimov, chief of the Russian General Staff, and other officials had warned that U.S. platforms firing weapons systems could be subject to attack.

Russian aircraft were flying in the general area where the Cook was cruising last week.

"At no time did the Russians threaten the Donald Cook," McKenzie said.

As a precaution, the U.S. "had significant air patrol over the Donald Cook provided by [U.S.] European Command," he said, but the Russian aircraft acted "professionally" by keeping a distance.

Although U.S. Central Command planned and conducted the missile strikes, EUCOM played a significant backup role, Army Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti said Sunday.

Scaparrotti, who doubles as NATO and EUCOM commander, said in a statement that "the strikes were the result of a carefully orchestrated plan which involved dedicated teamwork between EUCOM and CENTCOM and their service assets, as well as our British and French partners."

"Multiple air and maritime assets assigned to U.S. Air Forces Europe and U.S. Naval Forces Europe under U.S. European Command participated in strike operations conducted in Syria," EUCOM officials said.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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