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What we know about the Syria strikes

The US, UK and France coordinated to laun...

Posted: Apr 15, 2018 9:58 AM
Updated: Apr 15, 2018 9:58 AM

The US, UK and France coordinated to launch strikes against targets within Syria in response to an alleged chemical weapons attack by the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

Who was involved?

US officials at a Pentagon briefing Friday described the strikes as a joint operation consisting of American, British and French forces.

"Today, the nations of Britain, France, and the United States of America have marshaled their righteous power against barbarism and brutality," US President Donald Trump said during a separate announcement from the White House.

Shortly after Trump's statement, UK Prime Minister Theresa May released a statement saying she had "authorized British armed forces to conduct coordinated and targeted strikes to degrade the Syrian Regime's chemical weapons capability and deter their use."

A statement released Friday by French President Emmanuel Macron said a "red line set by France in May 2017 has been crossed. So, I ordered the French armed forces to intervene tonight, as part of an international operation in coalition with the United States of America and the United Kingdom and directed against the clandestine chemical arsenal of the Syrian regime."

What was hit?

Three sites were targeted, Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters:

  • A scientific research center in Damascus;
  • A chemical weapons storage facility, located west of Homs;
  • And a chemical weapons equipment storage facility and command post near Homs.

In an update Saturday, Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White said the strikes "successfully hit every target" and that the allies "took every measure and caution" to hit only the intended targets.

"We met our objectives. We hit the sites, the heart of the chemical weapons program. So, it was mission accomplished," she said.

Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, director of the Joint Staff, said that none of the aircraft or missiles involved in this operation were successfully engaged by Syrian air defenses. There was no indication that Russian air defenses were deployed, he added.

Syria and its military backer, Russia, gave a different assessment.

Russian Army Colonel General Sergey Rudskoy told reporters that Syria's air defense systems intercepted 71 out of 103 cruise missiles Russia believes were fired by the Western allies.

According to preliminary reports, there were no civilian casualties or losses from the Syrian army, Rudskoy said. A number of Syrian military airfields, industrial sites and research facilities suffered in the strikes, he added.

Syrian state TV said missiles targeting Homs were intercepted and did not cause damage.

Were there casualties?

Syrian state TV also reported that three civilians were wounded in Homs after "several" missiles were intercepted by Syria air defense systems.

The Pentagon said it was not aware of any civilian casualties as of Saturday morning US time.

Are the strikes over?

Trump said the US was "prepared to sustain this response until the Syrian regime stops its use of prohibited chemical agents." However, he maintained that "America does not seek an indefinite presence in Syria."

At a Pentagon briefing, Dunford said "this wave of airstrikes is over," but defense officials added they are prepared for a sustained campaign until the Syrian regime ceases its alleged use of chemical weapons.

What weapons were involved?

At least one US Navy warship operating in the Red Sea participated in Friday's strikes, as well as US B-1 bombers, military and defense officials told CNN.

The Pentagon said 105 missiles were launched in the strikes against Syria. They included 30 Tomahawk missiles fired from the USS Monterey and seven from the USS Laboon in the Red Sea. Another 23 Tomahawk missiles were launched from the USS Higgins in the North Arabian Gulf, it said.

A submarine, USS John Warner, fired six Tomahawk missiles from the eastern Mediterranean and a French frigate in the same area fired another three missiles, the Pentagon said.

The air assault involved two US B-1 Lancer bombers, which fired 19 joint air to surface standoff missiles. The British flew a combination of Tornado and Typhoon jets, firing eight Storm Shadow missiles, while French Rafale and Mirage fighter jets launched nine SCALP missiles, the Pentagon said.

Four Royal Air Force Tornado GR4's were used in the strikes, launching Storm Shadow missiles at a "former missile base -- some 15 miles west of Homs," according to the UK Ministry of Defense.

Was Russia warned?

Dunford said the US "specifically identified" targets to "mitigate the risk of Russian forces being involved."

He said normal communication lines were used in the run-up to the strike to ensure clearance of airspace, but targets were not coordinated with the Russians.

Paris and its allies warned Russia beforehand because they wanted to avoid any escalation of the Syrian conflict, French Defense Minister Florence Parly said.

Have Syria and Russia responded?

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Saturday that the Kremlin "seriously condemns" the attack on Syria, which he called an "act of aggression against a sovereign state ... at the forefront of the fight against terrorism."

He said the strike had been carried out "without the sanction of the United Nations Security Council, in violation of the UN Charter, norms and principles of international law." Russia called for an immediate United Nations Security Council meeting, which was held at 11 a.m. ET Saturday.

At the UN session, Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia called on the United States and its allies immediately to end "the aggressive actions against Syria and to refrain from them in the future."

Russia also put forward a draft resolution and will demand a vote at the end of the UN Security Council's emergency session Saturday.

Nebenzia called the strikes an "illegal military adventure" and "hooliganism in international relations" that undermined the authority of the governing body.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said the airstrikes would not stop him from "fighting terrorism" across the country, according to Syrian state TV.

The Syrian Foreign Ministry said the joint US, UK and French airstrikes were a "flagrant violation of international law and the principals of UN charter," according to the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency.

Earlier, the office of the Syrian Presidency tweeted a video of Assad going to work Saturday, with the caption "a morning of steadfastness."

An official with the US-led coalition fighting ISIS in Syria said pro-regime and Russian forces in Syria were showing no signs of retaliation against US and coalition troops in the country.

McKenzie, the Joint Staff director, said the Pentagon was not aware of any military response from within Syria but the US remained ready to respond to any potential threat to allied forces.

White, the Pentagon spokeswoman, meanwhile, warned that Russia was spreading misinformation.

"The Russian disinformation campaign has already begun. There has been a 2,000% increase in Russian trolls in the last 24 hours, therefore we will keep you all abreast of the facts moving forward," she said Saturday morning.

What have we learned about the Douma attack?

More than 70 people in Syria's rebel-held town of Douma reportedly died while sheltering in basements. Of those, 43 showed symptoms consistent with exposure to "highly toxic chemicals," according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

The WHO, citing reports from health partners on the ground, also said about 500 people went to the hospital showing signs of exposure to "toxic chemicals" in Douma.

The Syrian government and Russia, its key ally, have vehemently denied involvement and accused rebels in Douma of fabricating the chemical attack claims.

A team of inspectors from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) arrived Saturday in Damascus en route to the site of the alleged attacks. The OPCW had said its deployment would continue as planned.

The French Foreign Ministry on Saturday released a report into the suspected chemical attack in Douma which stated that France assessed "with a high degree of confidence" that it was carried out by the Syrian regime.

French experts analyzed testimonies and symptoms identifiable in images and videos taken in Douma, the Foreign Ministry said, but did not have access to samples from the ground.

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