The United States on Thursday, by executive orders from President Donald Trump, bombed a Syrian airbase. The missile strike ordered by Trump, despite a stern warning from Russia that there will be “negative consequences” of unilateral military action. Several military sources confirmed that there were casualties, but the number of people killed was not specified.
The attack is “vital to national security,” said Trump himself, who recalled that Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad attacked “helpless men, women and children” with neurotoxic gas. For Trump, “all civilized countries” should contribute to the end of the Syrian conflict. The attack was the American response to an alleged chemical attack that killed at least 86 people this week in northwestern Syria and sparked outrage from the international community. Washington blamed Assad for the attack.
A Pentagon source reported that 59 Tomahawk guided missiles had been fired, particularly at Shayrat’s Syrian air base, where U.S. analysts are convinced that the attack started with a neurotoxic gas. Shortly thereafter, Syrian state television confirmed the attacks and called them an “aggression” by the United States. It was also indicated that the attack caused “losses,” reported a military source of the Assad regime, without specifying whether it was human or material losses.
“One of our air bases in the center of the country was attacked at dawn by a missile fired by the United States, causing losses,” said the source quoted by a Syrian television channel, which shortly before described the attack as an “aggression.”
Meanwhile, a White House source who requested anonymity directly blamed Assad for the attack and said that a gas similar to sarin was used. Earlier in the day, Turkish experts who treated victims of the attack had said it was sarin, a neurotoxic gas that can cause death within minutes.
On Thursday afternoon, the UN Security Council failed to reach an agreement on a resolution on Syria, when it had already been reported that the White House had ready the plans of attack. In that context, the Russian delegation issued a clear warning to Washington on the risks of military and unilateral action in the Syrian conflict.
“If there is a military action, all responsibility will fall on those who have started such a tragic and dubious undertaking,” Russian Ambassador to the UN Vladimir Safronkov said on the sidelines of a Security Council meeting on Syria.
This missile attack means that Washington became directly involved in the Syrian catastrophe, a clear turning point in U.S. military and political strategy after six years of civil war. “What Assad has done is terrible. What has happened in Syria is really a shocking crime,” Trump told reporters during the trip to Florida, where Chinese President Xi Jinping was waiting for him.
“What happened in Syria is a disgrace to mankind, and Assad is still there, and I suppose he’s the boss, and that’s why I think something must happen,” he said. U.S Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had been more explicit in promising a “proper response” to Tuesday’s attack on the village of Jan Sheijun in the rebel province of Idlib. Among the victims are 27 children.
Tillerson also evoked “a political process leading to the departure of Assad.” “Assad’s role in the future (of Syria) is uncertain with the acts he committed,” he said. The United Kingdom, France, and the United States pressed for a vote on Thursday to request an investigation into the chemical attack but decided to postpone it.
Russia had advanced its firm rejection by calling the proposal “unacceptable.” Instead, it filed a counter-statement that does not mention any pressure on the Syrian government to collaborate with an investigation. As the UN moved the pieces, a Pentagon official told reporters that he had already sent a number of possible military actions in Syria to the White House, especially against Syrian government airbases to limit their ability to act.
Simultaneously, U.S. warships armed with Tomahawk missiles crossed the eastern Mediterranean. This represents a clear shift in America’s policy towards Syria. Just a week ago, U.S. ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said that Assad’s departure from power was not among “Washington’s priorities.” Tillerson himself said that the future of the Syrian leader must be decided by the Syrians themselves.
Russian President Vladimir Putin called on the international community not to rush a judgment on what happened before a full investigation into the use of a chemical weapon is made. Putin warned against “the unacceptability of unfounded accusations against anyone before there is an international and impartial investigation.” This same Thursday, the Syrian chancellor, Walid Muallem, again denied the participation of his government in the attack involving chemical weapons.
“The Syrian army did not use, use or use such weapons, not just against its own people but also against terrorists who attack our civilians with their mortars,” he said. But the United States insists that Assad is responsible for the attack and so does German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
[Featured Image by Win McNamee/Getty Images]