Following the US President Donald Trump‘s statement yesterday “to punish President Bashar Assad for the alleged chemical weapons use and to prevent him from doing it again,” the US and its allies launched an early morning missile attack on Syria.
Gen Joseph F Dunford Jr, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that the US military, in conjunction with British and French forces, struck three sites — a scientific research center near Damascus, a chemical weapons storage facility near Homs and a storage facility and command post also near Homs.
Loud explosions rocked the Syrian capital and filled the sky with heavy smoke before sunrise soon after the US President’s announcement. According to the Syrian media, air defenses responded to the attack.
Also Read: I want to talk about how we got here
Foreign Press representatives in Damascus reported seeing smoke rise from east Damascus and the sky turn orange. A huge fire was visible far in the eastern horizon. The Syrian media confirmed that a scientific research center had been hit.
The Syrian media also reported that air defenses hit 13 rockets south of Damascus. After the attack the sky turned dark again and vehicles with loudspeakers started roaming the streets blaring nationalist songs.
“Good souls will not be humiliated,” Syria’s presidency tweeted as the airstrikes began.
Trump had earlier chastised Syria’s two main allies, Russia and Iran, for their roles in supporting “murderous dictators,” and noted that the Russian President, Vladimir Putin had guaranteed in a 2013 international agreement for Assad to get rid of all of his chemical weapons. He called on Moscow to change course and join the West in seeking a more responsible regime in Damascus.
He further said that the US is prepared to “sustain” pressure on Assad until he ends “a criminal pattern of killing his own people with internationally banned chemical weapons”. It’s unclear whether Trump meant for the allied military operations to extend beyond this one round of missile strikes.
The Syrian government has repeatedly denied any use of banned weapons.
The strikes appear to signal Trump’s willingness to draw the United States more deeply into the Syrian conflict. The participation of British and French forces enables Trump to assert a wider international commitment against the use of chemical weapons, but the multi-pronged attack carries the risk of Russian retaliation.
International watchers however feel that a weakened regime in Syria would give the much-needed relief to the dreaded Islamic State (IS) which could retaliate and reclaim the “Caliphate” land from where they have been removed after heavy armed retaliations recently by the Assad regime.
This was Trump’s second order to attack Syria; he had authorized a barrage of Tomahawk cruise missiles to hit a single Syrian airfield in April 2017 in retaliation for Assad’s alleged use of sarin gas against civilians.
This operation comes a year after the US missile strike since it “did not deter” the regime from using dreaded nerve gas on civilians including children. This may not be the last attack and a more intense series of attacks aimed at Syrian aircraft, military depots and chemical facilities, among other targets could be on anvil.
In a address to the nation, Trump had stressed that he has no interest in a longtime fight with Syria.
“America does not seek an indefinite presence in Syria under no circumstances,” he said. “As other nations step up their contributions, we look forward to the day when we can bring our warriors home.”
The US has about 2,000 troops on ground in Syria who are acting as advisers to a makeshift group of anti-IS fighters known as, Syrian Democratic Forces.
A US-led coalition has been conducting airstrikes in Syria since September 2014 as part of a largely successful effort to break the IS grip on both Syria and Iraq.
Several Trump detractors have suggested that the airstrikes have been strategically manage to detract public focus from the fired CBI chief, Comey’s book which has been giving the President an uncomfortable time.
US Defense Secretary, James Mattis has termed the initial airstrikes on Syria as a ‘one-time shot’ while adding that ‘no additional attacks have been planned.’