US President Donald Trump, along with British Prime Minister Theresa May and French President Emmanuel Macron authorised precision air-launched cruise missile strikes against Syria on Saturday to degrade its chemical weapons capability, saying there was no alternative to military action.
Britain joined the United States and France in what May cast as a “limited and targeted” strike after intelligence indicated Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government was responsible for an attack using chemical weapons in Douma.
US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis asked all civilised nations to urgently unite in ending the Syrian civil war.
His remarks came after President Donald Trump announced targeted strikes on Syria in collaboration with the UK and France to retaliate against the April 7 chemical attack in the Syrian town of Duma.
“The authoritarian Assad regime did not get the message last year as it was hit by American missiles after it carried out chemical weapons attack against its own people,” Mattis said adding that it carried used chemical weapons again this year.
Emphasising that the strikes are directed at the Syrian regime, Mattis said in conducting these strikes, the US has gone to great lengths to avoid civilian and foreign casualties.
“But 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,” he said.
However, Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said that one night of air strikes was not a substitute for a clear, comprehensive Syria strategy.
“The President must come to Congress and secure an Authorisation for Use of Military Force by proposing a comprehensive strategy with clear objectives that keep our military safe and avoid collateral damage to innocent civilians,” she said.
“President Trump must also hold Putin accountable for his enabling of the Assad regime’s atrocities against the Syrian people,” Pelosi said.
5. BRITAIN TALKS TOUGH
Meanwhile, May said the missile strike, designed to minimise civilian casualties, was aimed at deterring further use of chemical weapons and was not an attempt to topple the Syrian government.
“This is not about intervening in a civil war. It is not about regime change,” May said in statement made from her country residence at Chequers just minutes after U.S. President Donald Trump announced the strikes from the White House.
By launching strikes without prior approval from parliament, May dispensed with a non-binding constitutional convention dating back to the 2003 invasion of Iraq. She said speed was essential and that military action was in the national interest.
May, whose government is propped up by a small Northern Irish party, said Britain and the West had an obligation to deter both Assad and others from using chemical weapons after the poison gas attack in Douma near Damascus killed up to 75 people, including children, last Saturday.
Britain has accused Russia of being behind last month’s nerve agent attack on former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury, southern England – a charge Moscow has denied.
“While this action is specifically about deterring the Syrian regime, it will also send a clear signal to anyone else who believes they can use chemical weapons with impunity,” May said.
“We cannot allow the use of chemical weapons to become normalised – within Syria, on the streets of the UK, or anywhere else in our world.”
May said Britain and its allies had sought to use every diplomatic means to stop the use of chemical weapons, but had been repeatedly thwarted, citing a Russian veto of an independent investigation into the Douma attack at the U.N. Security Council this week.
“So there is no practicable alternative to the use of force to degrade and deter the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime,” she said.
Many politicians in Britain, including some in May’s own Conservative Party, had called for parliament to be recalled from holiday to give authority to any military strike.
“This is the first time as prime minister that I have had to take the decision to commit our armed forces in combat – and it is not a decision I have taken lightly,” she said.
The Western missile strikes demonstrate the volatile nature of the Syrian civil war, which started in March 2011 as an anti-Assad uprising but is now a proxy conflict involving a number of world and regional powers and a myriad of insurgent groups.
Trump said he was prepared to sustain the response until the Assad government stopped its use of chemical weapons.
Russia, which intervened in the war in 2015 to back Assad, has denied there was a chemical attack and has accused Britain of helping to stage the Douma incident to stoke anti-Russian hysteria.