U.S. Launches Missiles at Syrian Base After Chemical Weapons Attack
The United States launched dozens of cruise missiles Thursday night at a Syrian airfield in response to what it believes was Syria's use of banned chemical weapons that killed at least 100 people, the U.S. military said.
Two U.S. warships in the Mediterranean Sea, the USS Ross and the USS Porter, fired 59 Tomahawk missiles intended for a single target — Shayrat Airfield in Homs province in western Syria, the Defense Department said. That's the airfield from which the United States believes the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad fired the banned weapons.
The Pentagon said people were not targeted, and there was no immediate word on casualties. U.S. officials told NBC News that aircraft and infrastructure at the site were hit, including the runway and gas fuel pumps.
"Assad choked out the lives of helpless men, women and children," President Donald Trump said in remarks from Mar-a-Lago, his family compound in Palm Beach, Florida.
"It is in this vital national security interest of the United States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons," said Trump, who called on other countries to end the bloodshed in Syria.
Trump is in Florida for a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinpeng. Defense Secretary James Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and national security adviser H.R. McMaster traveled to Florida with him.
Video Shows Launch of Tomahawk Missiles Aimed at Syria Airfield 0:33
A White House official told NBC News that more than two dozen members of Congress were briefed by administration officials on the missile strike. Vice President Mike Pence returned to the White House after having gone home for dinner Thursday evening and monitored the events from the Situation Room, officials said.
Syrian television characterized the missile strike "as American aggression" Friday morning. But Ahrar Al Sham, the largest Syrian armed rebel group, told NBC News it "welcomes any U.S. intervention through surgical strikes that would deter the Assad regime capabilities to kill civilians and shorten the suffering of our people."
The Defense Department called the strike a "proportional response to Assad's heinous act," saying it was "intended to deter the regime from using chemical weapons again."
A map shows the location of Shayrat Airfield in Syria, the site of U.S. missile strikes overnight Thursday. Google Maps
Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a spokesman for the Defense Department, said initial assessments showed that the airfield was severely damaged, reducing Syria's capability to deliver chemical weapons.
Tillerson and Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, have bluntly blamed Syria for the chemical weapons attack, whose victims included at least 25 children.
Tillerson told reporters on Thursday that "there is no doubt in our minds" that the Syrian regime was responsible for the attack. And in a combative speech at the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday, Haley warned: "When the United Nations consistently fails in its duty to act collectively, there are times in the life of states that we are compelled to take our own action."
NBC News reported Thursday that Defense Secretary James Mattis briefed Trump on U.S. military options, which included carrying out targeted strikes against those responsible for Tuesday's attack.
There was no immediate reaction from Russia, which Tillerson and Haley have accused of turning a blind eye to Syria's transgressions. Davis said U.S. officials had "multiple conversations" with the Russian government ahead of the missile strike.
At the United Nations on Wednesday, Haley said Russia "cannot escape responsibility for this," adding: "They chose to close their eyes to the barbarity. They defied the conscience of the world."
Photos: Rescuers Treat Dozens in Syria Chemical Attack
Thursday, Tillerson urged Russia to "consider carefully their continued support of the Assad regime."