The United States blasted a Syrian air base with a barrage of cruise missiles Thursday night in fiery retaliation for this week's gruesome chemical weapons attack against civilians. President Donald Trump cast the US assault as vital to deter future use of poison gas. It was the first direct American assault on the Syrian government and Trump's most dramatic military order since becoming president just over two months ago.
In a brief televised address delivered hours after the UN Security Council failed to agree on a probe into the apparent chemical attack, Trump confirmed the US strike on Syria and urged "all civilised nations" to unite to end the bloodshed in the country.
Here is a transcript of US President Donald Trump's remarks Thursday night after ordering a massive missile strike against a Syrian air base:
"My fellow Americans: On Tuesday, Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad launched a horrible chemical weapons 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 in 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 United 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.
"Years of previous attempts at changing Assad's behavior have all failed and failed very dramatically. As a result, the refugee crisis continues to deepen and the region continues to destabilise, threatening the United States and its allies.
"Tonight, I call on all civilised nations to join us in seeking to end the slaughter and bloodshed in Syria, and also to end terrorism of all kinds and all types.
"We ask 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 have passed. And we hope that as long as America stands for justice, then peace and harmony will, in the end, prevail.
"Goodnight. And God bless America and the entire world. Thank you."
The US military fired dozens of cruise missiles at the Shayrat Airfield at 8.45 pm Eastern Time (0000 GMT), officials said. A White House official said 59 "precision munitions" had been blasted at the base, while a US defence official said "dozens" of Tomahawk cruise missiles were launched.
The missiles were fired from the USS Porter and the USS Ross, which belong to the US Navy's Sixth Fleet and are located in the eastern Mediterranean. A US official said the missiles targeted aircraft and runways at the base.
The sudden US military action against the Assad regime marks a stunning development in Syria's brutal, six-year conflict and a sudden about-face for Trump. It came despite a warning from Russia of potential "negative consequences" if Washington strikes Syria.
"All responsibility if military action occurs will be on the shoulders of those who initiated such a doubtful tragic enterprise," Russian Ambassador to the UN Vladimir Safronkov said. A US official said Washington had informed Russia ahead of the Syria strike.
US secretary of state Rex Tillerson had earlier vowed an "appropriate response" to the attack in Khan Sheikhun in rebel-held Idlib province, which killed at least 86 people, including 27 children. The White House official said the United States assesses that the Assad regime used a chemical nerve agent consistent with sarin in Tuesday's attacks.
"I think what happened in Syria is one of the truly egregious crimes and shouldn't have happened and it shouldn't be allowed to happen," Trump told reporters travelling on Air Force One to Florida, where he was holding a two-day summit with Chinese president Xi Jinping.
The strike came as Trump was hosting Xi in meetings focused in part on another pressing US security dilemma: North Korea's nuclear program. Trump's actions in Syria could signal to China that the new president isn't afraid of unilateral military steps, even if key nations like China are standing in the way.
Trump has advocated greater counterterrorism cooperation with Russia, Assad's most powerful military backer. Just last week, the Trump administration signaled the US was no longer interested in trying to push Assad from power over his direction of a conflict that has killed hundreds of thousands of people and led to the worst refugee crisis since the Second World War.
US military officials sought to portray the strikes as an appropriate, measured response. But the assault still risks plunging America into the middle of Syria's conflict, complicating the safety of the hundreds of US forces fighting a separate campaign against the Islamic State group in the north of the country. If Assad's military persists in further gas attacks, the Trump administration might logically pursue increased retaliation.
Russia and Iran, Assad's allies, pose other problems. Russian military personnel and aircraft are embedded with Syria's, and Iranian troops and paramilitary forces are also on the ground helping Assad fight the array of opposition groups hoping to topple him.
The world learned of the chemical attack earlier in the week in footage that showed people dying in the streets and bodies of children stacked in piles. The international outcry fueled an emotional response from Trump, who appeared to abandon his much-touted "America First" vision for a stance of humanitarian intervention, akin to that of previous American leaders. "I think what happened in Syria is a disgrace to humanity," he said on Thursday.
Trump seemed to rapidly reconsider his feelings about Assad, saying: "He's there and I guess he's running things, so something should happen."
The show of force in Syria raises legal questions. It's unclear what authority Trump is relying on to attack another government. When Obama intervened in Libya in 2011, he used a UN Security Council mandate and Nato's overall leadership of the mission to argue that he had legal authority — arguments that many Republicans opposed. Trump can't rely on either justification here.
Unclear also is whether Trump is adopting any broader effort to combat Assad.
Trump and his top aides had acknowledged in recent days the "reality" of Assad being in power, saying his ouster was no longer a priority. But the chemical weapons attack seemed to spur a rethink. In Florida on Thursday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said of Assad: "There's no role for him to govern the Syrian people."
With inputs from agencies
Published Date: Apr 07, 2017 09:39 am | Updated Date: Apr 07, 2017 10:13 am