News Briefs April 13, 2017

U.S. Launches Missile Strike Against Syria

U.S. President Donald Trump ordered a targeted missile attack against a Syrian air base on Thursday, April 6. The strike was in response to Syria’s reported use of chemical warfare against rebel forces within that country, as part of its ongoing civil war.

President Trump announced the attack in a statement from his Palm Beach, FL estate, Mara-Lago. “Tonight, I ordered a targeted military strike on the air base in Syria from where the chemical attack was launched,” Trump said Thursday. “It is in this vital national security interest of the United States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons” (New York Times, “Dozens of U.S. Missiles Hit air Base in Syria,” 4.06.2017).

The announcement of the attack came two days after reports that the Syrian government mounted a chemical weapons attack against Syrian citizens in Khan Sheikhoun, located in Syria’s Idlib province. Khan Sheikhoun is known to be a stronghold of Syrian rebels, who oppose current Syrian President Bashar Al-Asad.

Asad’s government denies the use of chemical weapons. However, U.S. officials have suggested that the rebels were struck with sarin gas, a powerfully potent nerve agent. Sarin can cause paralysis, convulsions and respiratory failure. The death toll of Tuesday’s attack is believed to be 86, though some reports cite a toll of closer to 100.

Thursday’s missile strike began at about 8:40 p.m. on Thursday, hitting Syria’s Al Shayrat airfield. 59 Tomahawk cruises were launched at the airbase, targeting Syrian jets and weapons. U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis said Monday that the strike damaged or destroyed twenty percent of Syria’s operational aircraft.

“The Syrian government has lost the ability to refuel or re-arm aircraft at Shayrat airfield and at this point, use of the runway is of idle military interest,” Mattis reported. “The Syrian government would be ill-advised ever again to use chemical weapons” (Al Jazeera, “US says strike on Syria destroyed fifth of Assad’s jets,” 4.10.2017).

Tensions between the United States and Russia, an ally of Asad’s regime, have grown in the days following the missile strike. A senior U.S. official, according to the Associated Press, has alleged that Russia knew about the chemical attacks before they happened. Meanwhile, officials from the Russian government have argued that the United States has no proof that Asad used chemical weapons at all.

“We strongly condemn illegitimate actions by the U.S.,” said Russian Deputy U.N. Ambassador Vladimir Safronkov, at a U.N. Security Council session Friday (The Washington Post, “Russia Condemns U.S. missile strike on Syria, suspends key air agreement,” 4.07.2017).

Other members of the Security Council, however, are putting pressure on Russia to cut its ties with Asad. Officials from the United States, Italy, Canada, Japan, Germany, France and the United Kingdom, countries known as the Group of Seven industrialized nations, are meeting in Italy to discuss possible solutions, before U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson meets with Russian officials in Moscow on Tuesday (Al Jazeera, “Russia faces mounting pressure to abandon Syria’s Assad,” 4.11.2017).

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said Monday that Russia needs to be a part of the solution. Spicer said, “I think with respect to Syria in particular, I think we need to remind them of the commitments that they’ve made and the commitments that Syria’s made” (USA Today, “White House threatens Syria with more strikes if chemical weapons are used,” 4.10.2017).


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