The United States launched dozens of cruise missiles at a Syrian airfield early Friday in response to a chemical weapons attack that killed dozens of civilians, the first direct assault on the Damascus government since the beginning of that country’s bloody civil war in 2011.
At least 50 U.S. Tomahawk missiles targeted an airbase at Shayrat, located outside Homs. It is believed that the base was used as the staging point for Tuesday’s chemical weapons attack on rebel-held territory, which killed as many as 72 civilians, including women and children, Fox News reports.
The use of Tomahawk missiles meant that the strikes did not target air defense systems manned by Russian troops. The Assad regime is strongly backed by Russia and Iran.
U.S. defense officials tell Fox that two warships based in the eastern Mediterranean, the USS Porter and the USS Ross, have been training for the past two days to execute this mission.
“Our forward deployed ships give us the capability to quickly respond to threats,” said a Navy official. “These strikes in Syria are a perfect example – this is why we’re there.”
The original plans called for two targets, the airbase and a chemical weapons storage facility. However, Pentagon planners decided late Thursday to target just the airbase.
Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., expressed support for the strike, saying in a joint statement that “the United States will no longer stand idly by as Assad, aided and abetted by Putin’s Russia, slaughters innocent Syrians with chemical weapons and barrel bombs.”
President Donald Trump did not announce the attacks in advance, though he and other national security officials ratcheted up their warnings to the Syrian government throughout the day Thursday.
“I think what happened in Syria is one of the truly egregious crimes and shouldn’t have happened and it shouldn’t be allowed to happen,” Trump told reporters traveling on Air Force One to Florida, where he was holding a two-day summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
The strike came as Trump was hosting Xi in meetings focused in part on another pressing U.S. security dilemma: North Korea’s nuclear program. Trump’s actions in Syria could signal to China that the new president isn’t afraid of unilateral military steps, even if key nations like China are standing in the way.