The United States launched a missile strike against a Syrian military base Thursday night. The action was in response to a chemical weapons attack by the Syrian government earlier this week that killed more than 80 Syrian civilians.
“I ordered a targeted military strike on the air base in Syria from where the chemical attack was launched,” President Donald Trump said Thursday night. “It is in this vital national security interest of the United States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons.”
Trump said his decision had been prompted in part by what he called the failures of the world community to respond effectively to the Syrian civil war. The war began in 2011 after Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad violently cracked down on peaceful protests against his regime. Rebel armies sprang up, and the conflict developed into a bloody civil war. More than 400,000 people have been killed in the fighting. The conflict has created a refugee crisis involving an estimated 11 million people.
“Years of previous attempts at changing Assad’s behavior have all failed,” Trump said. “As a result, the refugee crisis continues to deepen, and the region continues to destabilize, threatening the United States and its allies.”
Earlier in the week, the Syrian government carried out a chemical weapons attack in a rebel-held area of the country. The poison gas killed dozens of Syrians, including children.
Two days later, in response to that attack, the U.S. fired 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at Al Shayrat airfield in Syria. The missiles were aimed at Syrian fighter jets, aircraft shelters, radar equipment, ammunition bunkers, sites for storing fuel, and air defense systems.
Administration officials described the strike as a strong message to the world that the American president was unwilling to stand by as Assad used horrific weapons in his country’s civil war. It was the first time the White House had ordered military action against forces loyal to Assad.
Many U.S. lawmakers—both Republicans and Democrats—expressed support for the president’s decision.
“Making sure Assad knows that when he commits such despicable atrocities he will pay a price is the right thing to do,” said Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer of New York.
With reporting by Michael R. Gordon, Helene Cooper, and Michael D. Shear of The New York Times.