WASHINGTON — The United States and European allies launched strikes against Syrian targets, President Trump announced on Friday, seeking to punish President Bashar al-Assad for a suspected chemical attack near Damascus that killed more than 40 people.
Mr. Trump said Britain and France had joined the United States in the strikes, which he said were underway.
“These are not the actions of a man. They are crimes of a monster instead,” Mr. Trump, in a televised nighttime address from the White House Diplomatic Room, said of the Syrian attacks last weekend that he blamed on Mr. Assad.
He said the strikes of precision weapons sought to deter the production, spread and use of chemical weapons, which he called “a vital national security interest of the United States.”
“We are prepared to sustain this response until the Syrian regime stops its use of prohibited chemical agents,” Mr. Trump said.
The strikes risked pulling the United States deeper into the complex, multi-sided war in Syria from which Mr. Trump only last week said he wanted to withdraw. They also raised the possibility of confrontation with Russia and Iran, both of which have military forces in Syria to support Mr. Assad.
In choosing to strike, it appeared that Mr. Trump’s desire to punish Mr. Assad for what he called a “barbaric act” — and make good on his tweets promising action this week — outweighed his desire to limit the United States’ military involvement in the conflict, at least in the short term.
The strikes marked the second time that Mr. Trump has attacked Syria to punish the government after it was accused of using chemical weapons. The White House had sought to craft a response that would be more robust than the attack last April, when the United States fired 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at a Syrian air base that was back in use a day later.
Victims of a suspected chemical attack in Douma, Syria, on Sunday. Residents said they heard objects falling from the sky, followed by a strange smell that witnesses said resembled chlorine.
France and Britain joined the United States in planning the latest fusillade of missiles against Mr. Assad’s government, presenting an allied condemnation of the April 7 suspected chemical attack in the town of Douma. Germany, however, refused to take part in the coordinated military action in Syria, even though Chancellor Angela Merkel called the use of chemical weapons “unacceptable.”
A fact-finding mission from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons was to begin investigating the incident on Saturday in Douma, which had been held by rebels before the suspected attack. The mission’s job was only to determine whether chemical weapons had been used, not who had used them.
Medical and rescue groups have reported that the Syrian military dropped bombs that released chemical substances during an offensive to take the town. A New York Times review of videos of the attack’s aftermath, and interviews with residents and medical workers, suggested that Syrian government helicopters dropped canisters giving off some sort of chemical compound that suffocated at least 43 people.
On Friday, American officials said they had intelligence implicating the Syrian government.
“We have a very high confidence that Syria was responsible,” said Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary. She said Russia was “part of the problem” for failing to prevent the use of such weapons.
At the United Nations, Nikki R. Haley, the American ambassador to the world body, accused the Syrian government of using banned chemical arms at least 50 times since the country’s civil war began in 2011. State Department officials said the United States was still trying to identify the chemical used on April 7.
President Emmanuel Macron of France on Thursday cited proof that the Syrian government had launched chlorine gas attacks. The same day, the British Cabinet authorized Prime Minister Theresa May to join the United States and France in planning strikes against Syria.
Continue Reading: NYT