The United States conducted a sweeping series of missile strikes on Syria late Thursday night.
Between 50 and 60 Tomahawk cruise missiles were fired from the decks of warships in the eastern Mediterranean. Unlike previous actions inside Syria, which targeted ISIS and anti-Western groups of rebels, the strikes last night were aimed directly at an airfield under the control of Bashar al-Assad.
The move, which was ordered by Donald Trump, is a shocking reversal in the President’s stance towards the conflict in the Middle-East. Trump was a frequent critic of the War in Iraq and, in 2013, advised Barack Obama to “save his powder” and avoid engaging the Syrian government.
The commander-in-chief purportedly ordered the attack on an airbase after the Assad regime deployed chemical weapons earlier in the week. The strike was the first military action the United States has taken against the Syrian government since the country broke out in civil war some six years ago. Previously, American armed forces had provided air support for Kurdish militants in the northern part of the country as well as light arms and training for other factions such as the Free Syria Army. Special forces have also been used on the ground to eliminate ISIS leaders and serve moderate rebel groups like the FSA.
Speaking from Mar-a-Lago in Florida, Trump announced the strikes on Thursday in a brief session with reporters.
“Tonight, I ordered a targeted military strike on the air field in Syria from where the chemical attack was launched,” said Trump. “It is in this vital national security of the United States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons.
“There can be no dispute that Syria used banned chemical weapons, violated its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention and ignored the urging of the UN Security Council. Years of previous attempts at changing Assad’s behavior have all failed and failed very dramatically.”
CNN reports the strikes took place at 8:40pm EST – 3:40am in Syria. Rather than seeking to maximize casualties or kill Syrian government soldiers, the intention was ostensibly to destroy “the things that make the airfield operate,” such as “aircraft, hardened aircraft shelters, petroleum and logistical storage, ammunition supply bunkers, [and] air defense systems.”
The Pentagon said in a public statement that “Initial indications are that this strike has severely damaged or destroyed Syrian aircraft and support infrastructure and equipment at Shayrat Airfield, reducing the Syrian government’s ability to deliver chemical weapons.”
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the strikes did not represent any significant change in the American approach to Syria, suggesting instead that the United States was letting Assad know that a line had been crossed in the use of chemical weapons.
American officials had briefed the Russian government several times throughout the day, warning them of the impending strike. Russia has been a staunch ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad since the conflict began.