Washington: The quick series of air attacks launched by the US, French and British in Syria was designed to send a “clear message” to President Bashar al-Assad and stop his chemical weapons program, US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Friday.
The chief of the Pentagon stressed that the strikes were a result of careful calibration to make a strong response to a suspected chemical attack, but avoid the chances of pulling the West into Syria’s civil war. “The targets tonight again were specifically designed to degrade the Syrian war machine’s ability to create chemical weapons and to set that back,” Mattis said.
“There were no attempts to broaden or expand that target set.” The air strikes at multiple targets began around 9:00 pm Eastern Time (0100 GMT) and saw US, French and British capabilities firing missiles at the Assad regime’s chemical production facilities.
The attack on early Saturday by President Donald Trump’s decision to strike Syria in response to a suspected chemical attack came a year after he had ordered military action against Assad following a deadly sarin gas attack on the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhun. “Clearly, the Assad regime did not get the message last year,” Mattis said.
“This time, the allies struck harder. We sent a clear message to Assad,” he added, noting that this time double the number of weapons were deployed compared to last year one when 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles were fired targeting Shayrat air base. The air strikes operation appeared to last about an hour. Mattis said no additional attacks were planned, despite the fact that Trump earlier suggested the strikes could last longer.
“It is time for all civilized nations to urgently unite in ending the Syrian civil war by supporting the United Nations-backed Geneva peace process,” Mattis said while noting that he expected Russia and other Assad backers to pursue a “significant disinformation campaign.” General Joe Dunford, who is chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the US chose targets to avoid hitting any of the Russian forces locations.
The US military warned Russia of areas it would be operating in as targets, but did not coordinate planning or targets, Dunford said. Dunford added the precision strikes hit at least three targets — a scientific research centre near the city of Damascus, a storage facility and command post also near the capital and a chemical weapons storage facility near Homs.
Syrian surface to air missile batteries had attempted to fire back to give a response to the attacks, but there were no initial reports of any allied losses, he said. Mattis and Dunford were joined at the Pentagon podium in the US by British and French top officers.
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