At 8:45 p.m. EDT yesterday (April 6), the U.S. military dropped more than 50 missiles on an airfield in Syria at the direction of President Donald Trump. The airstrike was in retaliation for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s April 4 chemical agent attack on the residents of Idlib, Syria, that killed more than 70 people.
The U.S. missiles were aimed at airstrips, hangars, and fueling and ammunitions areas at the government-controlled Shayrat air base where Trump Administration officials say the military planes used in the attack earlier this week originated. The U.S. Navy posted video of the launch.
The action represents the United States’ first military strike in Syria, which has been embroiled in a civil war since 2011. It’s also a shift in practice from the Obama Administration, which avoided military operations and focused on humanitarian aid and refuge for displaced Syrians. But Trump has twice attempted to prevent Syrians from entering the country via his failed “Muslim Ban.”
As Quartz reports, the Trump Administration appears to be giving mixed signals about its intentions in Syria. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters that there will be no change in policy: “I would not in any way attempt to extrapolate that to a change in our policy or posture relative to our military activities in Syria today. There has been no change in that status,” Tillerson said. “I think it does demonstrate that President Trump is willing to act when governments and actors cross the line and cross the line on violating commitments they’ve made and cross the line in the most heinous of ways.”
But in his brief video announcement about the airstrikes last night, Trump implored other nations to join the fight, saying, “Tonight I call on all civilized nations to join us in seeking to end the slaughter and bloodshed in Syrian and also to end terrorism of all kinds and all types.”
Read the full transcript of his speech, per BuzzFeed News:
On Tuesday, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad launched a horrible chemical attack on innocent civilians using a deadly nerve agent. Assad choked out the lives of helpless men, women and children. It was a slow and brutal death for so many. Even beautiful babies were cruelly murdered at this very barbaric attack. No child of God should ever suffer such horror.
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 Untied States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons. There can be no dispute that Syria used banned chemical weapons, violated its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention and ignored the urging of the UN Security Council. Numerous previous attempts at changing Assad’s behavior have all found and failed very dramatically. As a result, the refugee crisis continues to deepen and the region continues to destabilize, threatening the United States and its allies.
Tonight, I call on all civilized nations to join us in seeking to end the slaughter and bloodshed in Syrian and also to end terrorism of all kinds and all types. We asked for God’s wisdom as we face the challenge of our very troubled world. We pray for the lives of the wounded and for the souls of those who passed. And we hope as long as America stands for justice and peace and harmony will in the end prevail. Good night and God Bless America and the entire world.
Per The Washington Post, Syrian and Russian leaders denounced last night’s attack, with the former’s military saying that blasts killed six people and indirectly aided the Islamic State by weakening Syrian forces. State-run Syrian Arab News Agency reports that the attack killed nine civilians, including four children, calling it a “blatant act of aggression.” Russian officials responded by saying it would pull out of a deal to share information with the U.S. regarding its air missions over Syria. Russian president Vladimir Putin’s spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, called the strikes “violations of the norms of international law, and under a far-fetched pretext.”
Congressional reaction to the move was mixed. While there were many people on Capitol Hill who cheered the action—including House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations—there were also detractors on both sides of the aisle. Several legislators of color took to Twitter to comment both on the purpose of the attack and the fact that Trump made the decision without Congress.
Representative Ted Lieu (D-Calif.)
Assad is still in power. What was purpose of strike? How much did this cost? Was Assad a threat to US homeland? How does this achieve peace? https://t.co/D3mstYwqh8— Ted Lieu (@tedlieu) April 7, 2017
Representative Val Demmings (D-Fla.)
The US should not only work to prevent the heinous abuse of the Assad regime, but provide safe harbor to refugees escaping certain death. pic.twitter.com/gICXxxGP3B— Rep. Val Demings (@RepValDemings) April 7, 2017
Representative Barbara Lee (D-Calif.)
This is an act of war. Congress needs to come back into session & hold a debate. Anything less is an abdication of our responsibility. https://t.co/GvHML3ByeI— Rep. Barbara Lee (@RepBarbaraLee) April 7, 2017
I was the lone vote against 2001 AUMF. Syria strikes are far beyond the scope of this war authorization. @SpeakerRyan needs to bring a vote.— Rep. Barbara Lee (@RepBarbaraLee) April 7, 2017
Representative Ro Khanna (D-Calif.)
Have we still not learned from the disasters in Iraq and Libya? Now Syria? Every time we have attacked since 2001, terrorism has spread.— Ro Khanna (@RoKhannaUSA) April 7, 2017
With our history, the first principle of American foreign policy in the Middle East should be: let’s not do more harm.— Ro Khanna (@RoKhannaUSA) April 7, 2017
Representative Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii)
Trump’s military strikes in Syria are reckless and short-sighted. -TGhttps://t.co/xM2NMwIgHF— Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (@TulsiPress) April 7, 2017
Representative Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas)
No # of missile strikes will end terror in Syria. If we are going to stop the killing, Trump MUST confront Putin who is propping up Assad— Sheila Jackson Lee (@JacksonLeeTX18) April 7, 2017
If his Twitter timeline is to be believed, Trump himself believed the attack was a bad idea before yesterday. As Mic reports, Trump has tweeted at least 45 times about the very topic, including the following:
What will we get for bombing Syria besides more debt and a possible long term conflict? Obama needs Congressional approval.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 29, 2013
We should stay the hell out of Syria, the “rebels” are just as bad as the current regime. WHAT WILL WE GET FOR OUR LIVES AND $ BILLIONS?ZERO— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 16, 2013
Russia is sending a fleet of ships to the Mediterranean. Obama’s war in Syria has the potential to widen into a worldwide conflict.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 5, 2013