Donald Trump - Syria

AP Photo/Susan Walsh

Trump: US, Allies Launch Military Strikes In Syria To Stop Chemical Weapons

April 13, 2018 - 9:27 pm
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WASHINGTON (WCBS 880/AP) — President Donald Trump announced Friday that the U.S., France and Britain together launched military strikes in Syria to punish President Bashar Assad for his alleged use of chemical weapons against civilians and to deter him from doing it again.

In an announcement from the White House, Trump said the U.S. is prepared to "sustain" pressure on Assad until he ends what the president called a criminal pattern of killing his own people with international banned chemical weapons.

Trump says that last Saturday, Assad deployed chemical weapons in what was a "significant escalation in a pattern of chemical weapons use by that very terrible regime."

"The evil and the despicable attack left mothers and fathers, infants and children thrasing in pain and gasping for air. These are not the actions of a man, they are crimes of a monster instead," Trump said.

Assad's government denies responsibility.

Loud explosions lit up the skies over the Syrian capital, as Trump announced the airstrikes.

Associated Press reporters in Damascus saw smoke rising from east Damascus early Saturday morning local time. Syrian state TV says the attack has begun on the capital, though it wasn't immediately clear what was targeted.

CBS News reporter Seth Doane reported from Damascus that as Trump was speaking, "We were hearing rumbling in the distance, the sound of what appeared-- what sounded like air strikes."

Trump warned Russia and Iran about their association with Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad's government, saying, "To Iran and to Russia, I ask: What kind of a nation wants to be associated with the mass murder of innocent men, women and children?" Trump calls the two countries those "most responsible for supporting, equipping and financing the criminal Assad regime."

"The nations of the world can be judged by the friends they keep," the president said, adding ominously, "Hopefully someday we'll get along with Russia, and maybe even Iran, but maybe not."

"No nation can succeed in the long run by promoting rogue states, brutal tyrants and murderous dictators," Trump added.

British Prime Minister Theresa May said in London that the West had tried "every possible" diplomatic means to stop Assad from using chemical weapons. "But our efforts have been repeatedly thwarted" by Syria and Russia, she said.

"So there is no practicable alternative to the use of force to degrade and deter the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime," May said. "This is not about intervening in a civil war. It is not about regime change."

Listen to President Trump's full statement:

French President Emmanuel Macron said in a statement that France's "red line has been crossed" after a suspected chemical attack last week in the Syrian town of Douma, adding there is "no doubt" that the Syrian government is responsible. Macron says the operation is limited to Syria's abilities to produce chemical weapons. He is not giving details about what equipment is involved in the operation or what sites it is targeting.

Defense Secretary James Mattis says the U.S. and its allies have taken "decisive action" against Syrian chemical weapons infrastructure. Mattis says the United States, along with France and the United Kingdom, struck because Assad "did not get the message" when the U.S. launched airstrikes after a chemical attack in 2017.

"Together, we have sent a clear message to Assad and his murderous lieutenants, that they should not perpetrate another chemical weapons attack, for which they will be held accountable," Mattis told reporters at the Pentagon Friday an hour after Trump announced the strike. "I want to emphasize these strikes are directed at the Syrian regime. In conducting these strikes, we have gone to great lengths to avoid civilian and foreign casualties."

The airstrikes were launched against several sites that Mattis said helped provide Assad's ability to create chemical weapons.

Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,  said the first target was a scientific research center located in the greater Damascus area; a chemical weapons storage facility west of Homs; the third target contained both chemical weapons equipment storage facility and an important command post.

Mattis said "right now this is a one-time shot" but is not ruling out further attacks. 

The defense secretary said the U.S. has no reports of suffering any losses during the initial airstrikes on Syria Friday.

Long Island Republican Congressman Peter King tells WCBS Newsradio 880's Kevin Rincon that he fully supports the president, 100 percent.

"What President Trump is doing tonight is long overdue, it's essential. I admire him, I want to give tremendous credit to the British, the French for standing with us. This is something which has to be done. Syria cannot be allowed to get away with using chemical weapons," King said. 

King said we have to be concerned about retaliation from Russia, but "we cannot let it deter us."

"The fact is Russia is not in our league as a military power, nobody wants to provoke Russia unncessarily, but we can't back down," King said. "We cannot allow them to be expanding, we cannot allow them to be encouraging or tolerating of enabling Syria to use these chemical weapons. So Russia has a decision to make: they can either work with the United States, they can have a relationship with us or they can identify with war criminals like Assad."

Meanwhile, U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, issued a statement saying, “I’m deeply concerned that President Trump continues to conduct military operations without any comprehensive strategy or the necessary congressional authorization. Every American, and particularly our men and women in uniform and their families, deserve far better than action without debate, accountability, and a Constitutionally-required authorization for the use of military force.”

The decision to strike, after days of deliberations, marked Trump's second order to attack Syria; he authorized a barrage of Tomahawk cruise missiles to hit a single Syrian airfield in April 2017 in retaliation for Assad's use of sarin gas against civilians.

Trump reiterated his call to have other nations take on more of the burden in Syria. He has asked U.S. partners "to take greater responsibility for securing their home region, including contributing large amounts of money for the resources, equipment and all of the anti-ISIS effort."

He says increased engagement from countries including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Egypt can ensure that Iran does not profit from the defeat of the Islamic State group.

He adds that, "America does not seek an indefinite presence in Syria — under no circumstances" and says that, "as other nations step up our contributions, we look forward to the day when we can bring our warriors home."

The president asked for a "prayer for our noble warriors" as he concluded his remarks. He also offered prayers for the Middle East and for the United States.

After the announcement, the NYPD issued a statement saying, “The NYPD is working with our intelligence bureau liaisons stationed abroad as well as our federal partners, and closely monitoring the U.S. military action in Syria.  There is no nexus to New York City, nor are there any credible threats to New York City, at this time.  Counterterror officers have been deployed in and around the City out of an abundance of caution.  New Yorkers who witness suspicious activity are encouraged to contact police immediately at 911 or at 1-888-NYC-SAFE.”

(Copyright 2018 WCBS 880. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)