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Trump Orders Syria Airstrikes After 'Assad Choked Out The Lives' Of Civilians

The guided-missile destroyer USS Porter transits the Mediterranean Sea on March 9. The more than 50 Tomahawk missile strikes were carried out against Shayrat air base in Homs province from the USS Porter and USS Ross in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Seaman Ford Williams
U.S. Navy
The guided-missile destroyer USS Porter transits the Mediterranean Sea on March 9. The more than 50 Tomahawk missile strikes were carried out against Shayrat air base in Homs province from the USS Porter and USS Ross in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Updated at 2:30 a.m. ET

President Trump has launched airstrikes in Syria in response to deadly chemical attacks allegedly ordered by the country's president, Bashar Assad, against his own people.

"Tonight I ordered a targeted military strike on the airfield in Syria from where the chemical attack was launched," the president announced Thursday night from his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Fla., where he is meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping. "It is in this vital national security interest of the United States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons."

The decision to launch airstrikes Thursday evening was a departure for Trump, who has been slow to embrace an interventionist foreign policy. The chemical attack has been seen as a key test of Trump's leadership on the world stage.

The U.S. fired 59 Tomahawk missiles from the USS Porter and USS Ross destroyers in the Eastern Mediterranean against the Shayrat air base, where the U.S. says the planes that carried out a chemical weapons attack originated. The missiles targeted aircraft and aircraft shelters, ammunition, air defense systems and radars.

U.S. officials said planners did everything possible to avoid civilian casualties and are still doing battle damage assessment to determine the exact results of the raid.

Moscow says strike violates international law

Russia was warned in multiple conversations that this air base was going to be targeted, officials said. There were Russians at the base. Russian President Vladimir Putin has called the idea that Assad was behind the attacks simply "groundless accusations."

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, in his regular Friday morning briefing, said the U.S. strike constituted "aggression against a sovereign state in violation of international law."

Peskov said Russian President Vladimir Putin believed the strike was based on a "made-up pretext" to distract attention from civilian deaths in Iraq, an apparent reference to U.S. airstrikes in Mosul.

Yet Trump said Thursday night that "there can be no dispute that Syria used banned chemical weapons, violated its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention and ignored the urging of the U.N. Security Council." He concluded his statement by saying:

The chemical attacks earlier this week killed more than 100 Syrians, including many children. On Wednesday, Trump said that the attacks "crossed a lot of lines for me" and hinted that he might pursue some sort of military action in response.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters in Florida after the president spoke that they had a "very high level of confidence that the attacks were carried out under aircraft under the direction of [Assad's] regime" and a "very high confidence that the attacks involved the use of sarin nerve gas."

White House national security adviser H.R. McMaster said at the briefing that the military planners took "great pains" to avoid risk to "third country nationals at that airport — I think you read Russians from that."

In his initial response to the Syrian attacks on Tuesday, Trump cast blame on former President Barack Obama for failing to act enough on the situation and engaging after Assad first crossed the "red line" Obama drew following Assad's use of chemical weapons in 2013.

But, as NPR's Tamara Keith noted, Trump himself had argued then as a private citizen that the U.S. should not become engaged in the conflict.

Here are the president's full remarks from Thursday night:

Congressional reaction is mixed

House Intelligence Committee ranking member Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said the president needs to coordinate any future action with Congress:

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce, R-Calif., agreed:

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Mark Katkov
Jessica Taylor
Jessica Taylor is a political reporter with NPR based in Washington, DC, covering elections and breaking news out of the White House and Congress. Her reporting can be heard and seen on a variety of NPR platforms, from on air to online. For more than a decade, she has reported on and analyzed House and Senate elections and is a contributing author to the 2020 edition of The Almanac of American Politics and is a senior contributor to The Cook Political Report.
Tom Bowman
Tom Bowman is a NPR National Desk reporter covering the Pentagon.