The United States has carried out a missile strike on a Syrian air force base in response to the Syrian government’s alleged use of chemical attack that killed at least 80 civilians this week.
The Syrian govt has denied responsibility for the use of the chemical weapons.
The New York Times quoted a senior Pentagon official as saying that the 59 Tomahawk missiles hit the Al Shayrat airfield, destroying fighter jets, and other infrastructure but avoided anything that may have had chemical weapons.
The cruise missile, which started hitting the air base around 8:30 Eastern Time, also avoided Russian fighter jets and other Russian military facilities.
Russia is a staunch ally of the Bashir Assad-led Syrian government and has been instrumental in co-ordinating some of the country’s military air strikes on rebel positions.
The Pentagon said it informed Russian military officials before the air strike.
“With a lot of Tomohawks flying, we didn’t want to hit any Russian planes,” an unnamed American military official was quoted as saying.
Tonight, I ordered a targeted military strike on the airfield in Syria from where the chemical attack was launched. It is in this vital national security interest of the United States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons,” US President, Donald Trump said in a statement from his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida.
The missiles, which were launched from two Navy warships, hit the air base for about 4 minutes. According to U.S. military officials, it was intended to send a clear message to Mr. Assad that U.S. will not shy away from using military force, if he continues to use chemical weapons.
The strike is the first direct White House-ordered military action against Syrian forces since the beginning of the country’s civil war. It is also a departure from the restrained approach of the Barack Obama administration.
U.S. military officials said the speed at which the Mr Trump administration responded, was meant to capitalise on the element of surprise.
Support for the airstrike has been pouring in from unlikely quarters. Hillary Clinton, Mr Trump’s rival in last November’s election praised the strike saying that the Obama administration, under which she served as secretary of state, should have taken out Mr. Assad’s air force.
Another critic of Mr Trump, Republican senator, John McCain, said in a statement that Mr. Trump should go further and “take Assad’s air force – which is responsible not just for the latest chemical weapns attack, but countless atrocities against the Syrian people – completely out of the fight.”
Mr. McCain had been perhaps the most vocal critic of Mr Obama’s approach to the Syrian conflict.
However, Democratic congressman, Seth Moultonn slammed Mr Trump’s decision to order the airstrike.
“So @POTUS cares enough about the Syrian people to launch 50 Tomahawks but not enough to let the victims of Assad find refuge & freedom here,” Moulton tweeted following reports of the strike.