President Donald Trump announced "precision strikes" on Syria on April 13, 2018, in response to a suspected chemical weapons attack that reportedly killed dozens of people there earlier this month.
Britain and France have joined the US in the military operation, Trump said.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime was suspected of orchestrating a chlorine attack against the rebel-held town of Douma, near the capital of Damascus, on April 7. Although exact figures were unclear, the attack is believed to have killed dozens, many of them children. The New York Times said at least 43 of the victims showed signs of having been exposed to "highly toxic chemicals."
"This massacre was a significant escalation in a pattern of chemical weapons use by that very terrible regime," Trump said on Friday.
USS Ross (DDG 71) fires a tomahawk land-attack missile on April 7, 2017.(US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Robert S. Price)
Trump called the incident a "heinous attack on innocent" Syrians and vowed that the US would respond: "This is about humanity; it can't be allowed to happen."
Trump also accused Russia and Iran of being "responsible for supporting, equipping, and financing" Assad's regime: "What kind of a nation wants to be associated with the mass murder of innocent men, women, and children," Trump asked.
"The nations of the world can be judged by the friends they keep," the president said. "No nation can succeed in the long run by promoting rogue states, brutal tyrants, and murderous dictators."
Trump continued: "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. Hopefully, someday we'll get along with Russia, and maybe even Iran. But maybe not."
Britain and France join in the military action
In a statement on Friday, British Prime Minister Theresa May said: "We cannot allow the use of chemical weapons to become normalized — within Syria, on the streets of the UK, or anywhere else in our world. We would have preferred an alternative path. But on this occasion there is none.
"History teaches us that the international community must defend the global rules and standards that keep us all safe. That is what our country has always done. And what we will continue to do."
An international uproar over chemical weapons
The chemical attack prompted several nations to respond, including the UK, France, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Israel. Trump had reportedly talked to UK Prime Minister Theresa May and French President Emmanuel Macron this week, both of whom believed that the Syrian regime should be held accountable.
"I just want to say very clearly, that if they use chemical weapons, they are going to pay a very, very stiff price," Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said.
Although Trump reportedly advocated for a broad military strike that would punish Syria, and to an extent, its allies Russia and Iran, he is believed to have been met with resistance from Mattis and other military officials, who feared the White House lacked a broad strategy, The Wall Street Journal reported on Friday.
The latest chemical attack follows the suspected Syrian-sponsored sarin attack in April 2017, which reportedly killed 89 people. The US responded by firing 59 Tomahawk missiles at a Syrian airbase that was suspected of playing a role in the chemical attacks.
Despite overwhelming evidence of the government's involvement in the attacks, Syria has denied responsibility for both incidents.
In addition to Assad's denials, Russia, one of Syria's staunchest allies, has also dismissed the allegations as "fake news," and said its own experts found no "trace of chlorine or any other chemical substance used against civilians."
On Tuesday, Russia took its response a step further and vetoed the US-backed United Nations resolution that condemned the apparent chemical attack.
US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley rebuked the decision and called it a "sad day."
"When the people of Douma, along with the rest of the international community, looked to this council to act, one country stood in the way," Haley said. "History will record that. History will record that, on this day, Russia chose protecting a monster over the lives of the Syrian people."
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