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Defence Secretary James Mattis said the US, UK and France had acted together, having determined that Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad had used chemical weapons against civilians a week ago. He said it would depend on Mr Assad if there were further strikes.
“Right now this is a one-time shot,” he told a briefing on Friday night at the Pentagon.
The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford, said the targets included a Syrian research facility, a chemical weapons storage facility and a command post. The first of these was located in Damascus, the first time that the US had struck close to the capital.
Asked whether the US and its allies was planning further attacks, Mr Mattis said: “That depends open Assad.”
The Defence Secretary said he was “certain” the Syrian regime had used chemical weapons in an attack on civilians, something that Mr Assad and its Russian allies have denied.
He said the US was still investigating what sort of chemical weapons had been used. “We are aware of one of the chemical agents” that was used, but further assessments were continuing.
While it was reported that Russian forces were not warned in advance of the strike, he said that usual deescalation communications did go ahead, the process Moscow and Washington use to avoid unintentional attacks on each other’s forces, or accidental clashes or their aircraft.
The strikes were the biggest intervention by Western powers against Mr Assad in the country’s seven-year-old civil war and pitted the United States and its allies against Russia, which itself intervened in the war in 2015 to back Mr Assad.
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In a statement US President Donald Trump said the intention of the strikes was to degrade the capability of Syria to produce and use such weapons. He and British Prime Minister Theresa May said there was no desire to push for regime change, something that would be of comfort to those concerned about the US and UK getting more deeply involved in Syria.
“The purpose of our actions tonight is to establish a strong deterrent against the production, spread and use of chemical weapons,” Mr Trump said in a televised statement.
“A short time ago, I ordered the United States Armed Forces to launch precision strikes on targets associated with the chemical weapons capabilities of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad.”
Speaking of Mr Assad and his suspected role in last week’s chemical weapons attack, Mr Trump said: “These are not the actions of a man. They are crimes of a monster instead.”
Reuters quoted a US official as saying the strikes were aimed at multiple targets and involved Tomahawk cruise missiles.