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Crime & Justice

US, allies launch retaliatory strikes on Syria

By Diyaruna and AFP


Smoke billows from a research centre near the capital Damascus after an international coalition airstrike targeted it in response to an alleged April 7th chemical attack by the Syrian regime. [Photo courtesy of Bahaa al-Sahli]

The US, Britain and France launched punitive military strikes against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria, in response to its latest use of chemical weapons, US President Donald Trump announced Friday (April 13th).

As Trump began a White House address to announce the action, explosions were reported in the Syrian capital, signalling a new chapter in a brutal seven-year-old civil war.

Several consecutive blasts were heard at 4 a.m., followed by the sound of airplanes overhead. Smoke could be seen rising from the northern and eastern edges of the capital.

"A short time ago, I ordered the US armed forces to launch precision strikes on targets associated with the chemical weapons capabilities of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad," Trump said in a televised speech.

"A combined operation with the armed forces of France and the UK is now under way. We thank them both," Trump added.

"This massacre was a significant escalation in a pattern of chemical weapons use by that very terrible regime," he said of the suspected deadly gas attack a week ago on the opposition-held Damascus suburb of Douma.

"The ... 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."

'Heavy strike'

Gen. Joseph Dunford, Washington's top general, told reporters that precision strikes hit three targets - a scientific research centre near Damascus, a nearby storage facility and command post, and a chemical weapons storage facility near Homs.

He added that Syrian surface-to-air missile batteries had attempted to fire back, but there were no initial reports of any allied losses.

It was a marked escalation in force compared to a US strike launched a year ago, when only cruise missiles were used against a single airfield.

Dunford said Russia's forces in Syria had been warned through existing "deconfliction" channels that western planes would be in Syrian air space, but that Washington had not revealed the target sites or timing in advance.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said no additional strikes were planned unless Assad again uses chemical weapons.

"We were very precise and proportionate, but at the same time, it was a heavy strike," he said.

United front

Trump also warned Russia and Iran not to stand by their ally in Damascus.

"Russia must decide if it will continue down this dark path or if it will join with civilized nations as a force for stability and peace," he argued.

The strikes had been expected since harrowing footage surfaced of the aftermath of the attack in Douma, which prompted a furious international reaction.

Trump's anger and apparent determination was quickly matched by French President Emmanuel Macron, who signed his country up for a joint response.

"We cannot tolerate the normalisation of the use of chemical weapons," Macron said in a statement.

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May was more cautious, but by the time the first precision cruise missile was launched, the coalition was unified.

"We cannot allow the use of chemical weapons to become normalised – within Syria, on the streets of the UK, or anywhere else in our world," May said, referring to a recent assassination attempt on a Russian double agent.


In the days between the attack in Douma and the US-led response, Washington and Moscow clashed repeatedly in duelling press statements and US debates.

Moscow denied its ally Assad had any role in the outrage, pushing a variety of alternative theories that peaked with a claim that Britain had staged the event.

More practically, at the UN, Russia's diplomats vetoed a US motion to re-establish an international investigation into chemical weapons use in Syria that could have established blame.

Washington, Paris and London have nevertheless insisted that their own secret intelligence points to Assad's guilt, and on Friday, a US spokeswoman said they had "proof."

The Russian military had vowed to respond to any attack.

After the strikes, Moscow's ambassador to the US, Anatoly Antonov, said: "We warned that such actions would not be left without consequences."

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Friday had warned the rival camps against "full-blown military escalation" and stressed the need to "avoid the situation spiraling out of control".

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