U.S. missiles strike a Syrian base after accusations of conducting a chemical weapons attack
By Jacob Foote
The United States launched 59 Tomahawk missiles at the Shayrat military airfield in Syria on Friday, Apr. 6, in the early morning. The missile strike was conducted in retaliation to the Syrian government’s alleged use of chemical weapons containing the toxic gas sarin on civilians in Syria’s southern Idlib Province on April 4, notably before an investigation could take place. In a statement regarding the attack, President Donald Trump said he directed the action in order to degrade the Syrian military’s ability to conduct further chemical weapons attacks and dissuade the Syrian government from using such weapons in the future. President Trump also claimed he ordered the missile strike to promote the stability of the region and prevent another humanitarian catastrophe.
President Trump said the alleged Syrian government’s chemical weapons attack changed his views on Bashar al-Assad, President of Syria. Whereas Trump seemed prepared to cooperate with Assad to unseat ISIS little over a week ago, his relationship with the Syrian President is now less clear.
At the time of the U.S. missile strike it remained unclear who conducted the chemical weapons attack due to the lack of any official investigations. Both Syria and Russia have denied that the Syrian military used chemical weapons.
While accusations of the Syrian government’s responsibility for the chemical weapons attack proliferated widely across Western media outlets, there appeared to be little motive for the Syrian government to conduct such an attack. Former British Ambassador to Syria Peter Ford claimed it was possible that the Islamic rebel groups combatting the Syrian government fabricated the story to trigger an intervention, ultimately to aid them in toppling Assad.
This was not the first time allegations that Assad used chemical weapons surfaced, though the retaliatory strike is novel. In 2013, President Barack Obama failed to pursue a bombing campaign in Syria despite news that Assad had crossed the “red-line” in a chemical attack near Damascus on August 21. The U.S. government at that time accepted Assad’s offer to relinquish the chemical weapons he possessed.
In light of the recent U.S. missile strike, many world leaders – and nearly the whole of the United Nations – rallied around the actions of the United States. Israel, Japan and Canada among others were vocal in their support for President Trump’s actions.
Besides Iran and Bolivia, Russia has strongly condemned the U.S. strike. The chair of the Russian Senate’s Security and Defense Committee, Viktor Ozerov, said “this can be regarded as an act of aggression on the part of the U.S. against a UN state.”
“We hope all sides will stay calm and exercise restraint to prevent the escalation of tension,” said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying.
While they suffered no casualties, Russia claimed the missile strike came “within an inch” of militarily clashing with their special forces and helicopters housed at the base. The Defense Ministry, in accordance with President Vladimir Putin’s instructions, ordered the expansion of Russia’s military presence in Syria as a result. In addition, a memorandum with the United States that prevented incidents and ensured flight safety in Syria has been suspended, increasing the possibility of a direct conflict between the two powers.
Russia has also retaliated against the U.S. claims that they were complicit in the alleged Syrian government’s chemical weapons attack. U.S. ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said that the Iranian and Russian governments bear considerable responsibility for supporting Assad.
As their economy is heavily dependent on energy exports to Europe, Russia has continued to back their Syrian ally in part to secure their plans for the Iran-Iraq-Syria pipeline, which would facilitate the export of natural gas. The United States has maintained its interest in constructing a Qatar-Turkey pipeline, which would compete with Russia in the energy market. As Syria lies in its path, the United States has held an interest in overthrowing Assad since 2005.
“The United States will take additional action, as necessary and appropriate, to further its important national interests,” said President Trump. Administration officials have said strikes against the Syrian regime have ceased until further notice, suggesting the United States is prepared to strike in the future.