The U.S. military launched “precision strikes” on several sites in Syria on Friday, along with the United Kingdom and France. President Donald Trump authorized the strikes following last week’s chemical attack in the city of Douma, a rebel-held city near the capital of Damascus.
“A short time ago, I ordered the United States armed forces to launch from precision strikes on targets associated with the chemical weapons capabilities of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad,” Trump announced on Friday. “A combined operation with the armed force of France and the United Kingdom is now underway. We thank them both.”
Trump pointed to Assad’s use of chemical weapons last April, as well as last week, as a reason why the U.S. military launched strikes.
“We are prepared to sustain this response until the Syrian regime stops its use of prohibited chemical agents,” he said, referring to a combined, military, economic, and military response. He later said that the United States does not seek “an indefinite presence in Syria under no circumstances.”
He also specifically asked Russia and Iran why they want to associate with “the mass murder of innocent men, women and children.” He added, “Hopefully some day we’ll get along with Russia and maybe even Iran, but maybe not.”
General Dunford later announced that three targets in Syria were hit: a center in Damascus that helped with “the research and development production and testing of chemical and biological warfare technology,” a “chemical weapons storage facility west of Homs,” and a third target that “contained a chemical weapons equipment storage facility and an important command post.”
Over the last week, Trump has repeatedly threatened Syria as well as the key allies of the regime, Iran and Russia. On Wednesday, he told Russia to “get ready” before walking back his statement less than an hour later. The White House has reportedly been working with allies in France and the United Kingdom over the last week to coordinate a response to the chemical attack in Douma.
According to a Bellingcat analysis, there were two separate chemical attacks on Douma on April 7, killing at least 34 people. An Mi-8 Hip helicopter likely dropped a gas cylinder filled with chlorine gas. Bashar al-Assad has denied responsibility for the attack, but as Bellingcat reports, his government has “previously been identified as using Mi-8 Hip helicopters to drop chlorine cylinders on opposition held areas.”
The World Health Organization confirmed on Wednesday that during the attack on Douma, an additional 500 people were injured and showed “signs and symptoms consistent with exposure to toxic chemicals.”
Assad has used chemical weapons repeatedly since the country’s civil war first broke out in 2011.
Last April, Trump authorized the first direct U.S. attack on the Syrian regime, and fired 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at the Shayrat airbase in Homs. He was reportedly persuaded by his daughter and senior adviser, Ivanka Trump, who was “heartbroken and outraged” by the images of the chemical attack on the town of Khan Sheikhoun.
After last year’s attack, the Shayrat airbase was up and running again within 24 hours. At the time, many members of Congress supported the strikes. At least 139 members supported both the strike as well as President Donald Trump’s executive order banning all Syrian refugees and immigrants from entering the United States. The United States has accepted only 11 Syrian refugees this year.
Trump’s foreign policy on Syria is largely incoherent. He has repeatedly called for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria over the last month, before reportedly receiving pushback from his national security team and agreeing to not set a timeline. As late as Friday evening in Washington, D.C., the White House was still telling reporters that no decision has been made on Syria.