Damascus: The barrage of 105 missiles that rained down on western Syria early Saturday morning intended to deter Syrian President Bashar Assad from launching chemical weapons attacks on his own people, but the military operation raises fresh questions about what happens next.
President Donald Trump’s decision stands to further complicate Syria’s already complex civil war, now in its eighth year. The Americans, Russians, Iranians, Turks, Israelis and more have all been involved in Syria’s bloodshed to varying degrees, turning it into a proxy battleground for various global interests.
The strikes, launched from U.S. bomber jets, warships, and an attack submarine along with French and British fighter jets, ratcheted up tensions in the multi-sided conflict. Syria, with allies Russia and Iran, condemned the attack and hinted at possible reprisal.
The Trump Administration, meanwhile, indicated that the predawn assault was a one-off operation to be repeated only if Assad used chemical weapons again. It wasn’t clear if that now included chlorine, which Assad has used dozens of times against civilians without American retaliation.
The U.S. military said the main targets of the strikes were two storage facilities, one that produced the deadly nerve agent sarin, and another was part of a command post, which were located west of the city of Homs. The third target was the Barzah Research Center, a military facility located near Damascus that conducted research, development, production and testing of chemical and biological warfare technology.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Assad’s most prominent allies, issued statements declaring the strikes were a violation of international law. Both nations have troops and equipment in Syria that has, at times, threatened the relatively small U.S. presence in Syria. U.S. commanders put their forces on higher alert for possible retaliation after the strikes.
Backed by Iranian military aid and Russian airpower, Syrian President Bashar Assad has nearly defeated the Islamist-dominated rebel groups spawned in the chaos of Syria’s 2011 revolution.
“The joint US-UK-France strike against Syrian chemical weapons targets sent a strong signal that Assad’s crimes against humanity will not go unpunished,” said Andrew Weber, former assistant Secretary of Defense for nuclear, chemical and biological defense. “It will restore deterrence against further regime use of chemical weapons, at least temporarily. The U.S. and its allies should be prepared to conduct larger follow on attacks as needed.”
The operation marked the second time the U.S. struck Assad’s military. Trump ordered an attack last April against the Shayrat air base after a warplane at the base dropped bombs on another town allegedly containing the nerve agent sarin. U.S. warships launched 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at the base.
This time, Trump declared “Mission Accomplished!” in a tweet, recalling the phrase made infamous by President George W. Bush after a premature celebration of the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.