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US, UK, and France strike Syria chemical weapons targets

The United States, France and the United Kingdom took “decisive action” to strike the chemical weapons infrastructure in Syria and send a “clear message” to President Bashar al-Assad to stop his chemical weapons program, U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis said in a press conference on Friday.

The Pentagon chief, standing at the podium along with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford and the British and French defense attaches, underscored that the strikes were calibrated to avoid civilian and foreign casualties.

“The targets tonight again were specifically designed to degrade the Syrian war machine’s ability to create chemical weapons and to set that back,” Mattis said. “There were no attempts to broaden or expand that target set.”

Mattis said Assad “did not get the message last year,” when the U.S. fired cruise missiles at Syria’s Shayrat air base retaliating for a chemical weapons attack.

“This time, the allies struck harder,” he added, noting that the number of weapons deployed doubled compared to last year. A Defense Department official told The Defense Post more than a hundred Tomahawk cruise missiles were fired.

The Pentagon chief underscored that the strikes were “a one time shot,” and there were no additional attack plans for Syria.  However, in his televised address, U.S. President Donald Trump suggested the strikes could last longer.

“It is time for all civilized nations to urgently unite in ending the Syrian civil war by supporting the United Nations backed Geneva peace process,” Mattis said, noting he expected Russia and other Assad backers to pursue a “significant disinformation campaign.”

Image: the US Department of Defense

General Dunford said the precision strikes hit three targets — a scientific research center near Damascus, a storage facility and command post also near the capital and a chemical weapons storage facility near Homs. He added that the U.S. chose targets to avoid hitting Russian forces. The U.S. military warned Russia of areas it would be operating in, but did not coordinate planning or targets, Dunford noted.

The air strikes at multiple targets began around 9:00 pm Eastern Time (0100 GMT) and saw US, French and British assets firing missiles at the Assad regime’s chemical production facilities. According to the Joint Chiefs of Staff Chair, Syrian surface to air missile batteries had attempted to fire back, but there were no initial reports of any allied losses.

Unverfied images from pro-regime and Hezbollah social media accounts appear to show missiles over Syria.

Another pro-Russia account posted an hour-long video purportedly of the strikes as seen from Damascus

The Russian Defense Ministry issued a statement saying that none of the Western strikes in Syria had hit areas covered by Russia’s air defences around its air base and naval facility.

“On April 14, from 3.42 am to 5.10 am Moscow time, planes and ships of the U.S. Armed Forces, together with the British and French Air Forces, carried out a missile attack on the military and civilian infrastructure of the Syrian Arab Republic,” the ministry said. “None of the cruise missiles launched by the United States and its allies entered the zone of responsibility of Russian air defense units covering the objects in Tartous and Khmeimim.”

In his statement, Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Anatoly Antonov said the West was implementing a “pre-designed scenario.”

“We are being threatened. We warned that such actions will not be left without consequences,” he said.

Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova wrote on her Facebook page that “those behind all this claim moral leadership in the world and declare they are exceptional. You need to be really exceptional to shell Syria’s capital at the moment when it had gained a chance of a peaceful future.”

After the strikes, the Syrian government has reportedly declared victory on state TV. According to claims, Syrian air defenses intercepted one-third of the strikes.

“The aggression is a flagrant violation of international law, a breach of the international community’s will, and it is doomed to fail,” the official SANA news agency said.

The full Pentagon press conference video is below

with reporting from AFP

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