WASHINGTON - US forces fired a barrage of
cruise missiles at a Syrian airbase Friday
in response to what President Donald Trump
called a "barbaric" chemical attack he
blamed on the Damascus regime.
The massive strike -- the first direct US
action against President Bashar al-Assad's
government and Trump's biggest military
decision since taking office -- marked a
dramatic escalation in American involvement
in Syria's six-year civil war.
It followed days in which images of dead
children and victims suffering convulsions
from the suspected sarin gas attack in the
rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhun shocked the
Syria's regime has denied any use of
chemical weapons and state media on Friday
described the US strike -- which was
reported to have pulverised the base and
killed at least four servicemen -- as an
"act of aggression".
Russia too denounced the US action, with
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov saying
President Vladimir Putin considered it
"aggression against a sovereign state" that
would inflict "considerable damage" on
The Syrian army said that six people were
killed and serious damage caused by a US
missile strike on the airbase.
"At 3:42 am (0042 GMT) the United States
carried out a flagrant aggression with
missiles against one of our airbases in the
central region, killing six people and
wounding a number of others, and causing
significant damage," a spokesman said,
reading from a statement on state
He did not specify whether the casualties
were civilian or military.
Trump announced the strike in a brief
televised address delivered hours after the
UN Security Council failed to agree on a
probe into the suspected chemical attack.
Declaring it in America's "vital national
security interest" to prevent the spread of
chemical weapons, Trump accused Assad of a
"very barbaric attack" in which "even
beautiful babies were cruelly murdered."
"Tonight I call on all civilised nations to
join us in seeking to end this slaughter and
bloodshed in Syria and also to end terrorism
of all kinds and all types," Trump said.
Officials said the US fired 59 Tomahawk
cruise missiles at the Shayrat Airfield at
3:40 am Syrian time on Friday.
- 'Blown to pieces' -
The missiles were fired from the USS Porter
and the USS Ross, which belong to the US
Navy's Sixth Fleet and are located in the
The strike targeted radars, aircraft, air
defence systems and other logistical
components at the military base south of
Homs in central Syria, from where Washington
believes Tuesday's deadly strike was
Officials said measures had been put in
place to avoid hitting sarin gas they said
was stored at the airfield.
"The airbase was almost completely destroyed
-- the runway, the fuel tanks and the air
defences were all blown to pieces," the
Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The Britain-based monitoring group said at
least four servicemen were killed, including
an air commodore.
The base was the second most important for
Syria's air force, Observatory chief Rami
Abdel Rahman told AFP, after the Latakia
airbase in Assad's coastal heartland where
Russia also maintains extensive facilities.
Homs governor Talal Barazi told AFP there
were several dead and wounded at the base
and that large parts of it were on fire.
"It will take some time to determine the
extent of the damage," he said. "Of course
we condemn this, all action targeting Syrian
military bases is condemnable."
Syrian state media confirmed the strike,
with news agency SANA saying: "This American
aggression follows the slanderous media
campaign by some countries... after what
happened in Khan Sheikhun."
Iran, another key Assad ally, also condemned
- Opposition urges more US action -
But Syria's opposition National Coalition
hailed the strike and called for further US
action against Assad's air force.
"The Coalition welcomes the strike and urges
Washington to neutralise Assad's ability to
carry out air raids," spokesman Ahmad
Ramadan told AFP. "We hope for more
strikes... and that these are just the
The strike came despite a warning from
Russia of potential "negative consequences"
if Washington carried out military action in
Russian has insisted that the chemical
weapons that caused the deaths in Khan
Sheikhun had been stockpiled by "terrorists"
on the ground and possibly released by a
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson accused
Russia -- which props up the Assad regime
and agreed to mothball Syrian chemical
weapons in a 2013 deal -- of being
incompetent or complicit in permitting
Russian military officials in Syria were
informed of the strike beforehand in order
to avoid casualties that could prompt a
The White House was quick to paint the
decision as limited to deterring the use of
chemical weapons, and not part of a broader
military campaign to remove Assad by force.
"The intent was to deter the regime from
doing this again, and it is certainly our
hope that this has had that effect,"
Pentagon spokesman Navy Captain Jeff Davis
Tillerson said the attack should leave no
one in any doubt that Trump is willing to
act if any actor "crosses the line."
It will send ripples around the world, from
Pyongyang to Tehran, as nations and leaders
take the measure of the novice but often
The timing of the strike, during a meeting
with China's President Xi Jinping, will give
weight to Trump's threats to deal with North
Korea's nuclear and missile programmes
unilaterally if necessary.
- Sends a 'strong message' -
Allies rushed to support the US military
action including Britain, Saudi Arabia and
"In both word and action, President Trump
sent a strong and clear message today that
the use and spread of chemical weapons will
not be tolerated," Israeli Prime Minister
Benjamin Netanyahu's office said.
On Wednesday, Trump had decried the
suspected attack -- which killed at least 86
people, including 27 children, and wounded
more than 500 -- as an "affront to
"It crossed a lot of lines for me," Trump
said, alluding to Barack Obama's failure to
enforce his own "red line" on the use of
chemical weapons in Syria four years ago.
In 2013, Trump had urged then-president
Obama not to intervene against Assad.
The Khan Sheikhun incident appears to have
marked a turning point for Trump, just days
after his administration signalled it was no
longer seeking the Syrian leader's departure
Tillerson called Thursday for "a political
process that would lead to Assad leaving"
and said his future role in the country was