The United States led a coalition with the United Kingdom and France to conduct targeted air strikes on facilities in Syria suspected to be manufacturing chemical weapons. One week prior to the air strikes, a suburb in Damascus was believed to have been hit by chemical weapons by military forces aligned with Syria President Bashar al-Assad.
According to the Pentagon, the coalition has fired more than 100 missiles that were launched from aircraft and ships. The targets were identified as a scientific research centre located in Damascus, a facility in Homs which is suspected to be a storage house for chemical weapons and another storage site at a nearby location.
United States President Donald Trump who announced the attack said the coalition was more than prepared to continue economic and military pressure on the government of al-Assad:
“The evil and despicable attack left mothers and fathers, infants and children, thrashing in pain and gasping for air. These are not the actions of a man; they are crimes of a monster instead.”
China, Iran and Russia condemned the air strikes on Syria. U.S. Defense Secretary James Matthis, perhaps in an attempt to avert an all-out war with the US-led coalition and supporters of al-Assad’s regime called the air strikes a “one-time shot”.
Reports coming from the Russian military claimed its air defences were able to shoot down an estimated 12 missiles that were targeting an air base. Russia was quick to point out that it had not mobilized its military and that the air defences were from Syria’s military forces.
The Ministry of Defence of Russia disclosed that the air strikes did not hit any of the Russian air bases located in Tartus and Hmeimim.
Russia’s ambassador to Washington, Anatoly Antonov implied in a statement that there would be consequences to the attacks:
“A pre-designed scenario is being implemented. Again, we are being threatened. We warned that such actions will not be left without consequences. All responsibility for them rests with Washington, London and Paris.”
The air strikes came just before the planned visit by inspectors from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). The inspectors were scheduled to investigate and gather evidence in the city of Damascus to see if chemical weapons were indeed used in the attacks.
However the U.S., France and the U.K. pre-empted the inspecting by stating they had evidence showing the government of al-Assad did use chemical weapons. The accusation was strongly refuted by Syria and Russia which believed it was the U.K that was responsible for the attack.
U.S. intelligence released its evidence which included testimonies from multiple witnesses who claimed Syrian helicopters were in the area of Douma shortly before the attack. The U.S. report also showed evidence that the victims had signs of chlorine and sarin poisoning.
This was not the first time President Trump launched missile strikes at Syria. In April 2017, the U.S. fired 59 Tomahawk missiles at a Syrian desert air base in response to another suspected chemical gas attack.