The United States launched attacks against the Syrian army Wednesday evening in response to the recent chemical attack that killed 70 people in Syria, which Washington and most Western countries blame on the government of Bashar Assad.
Some 59 Tomahawk missiles were launched from U.S. Navy warships in the Mediterranean Sea, a U.S. official told Reuters speaking on condition of anonymity. A target was identified as an airbase in Homs, Syria.
U.S. President Donald Trump confirmed the strike shortly after in a quick press conference and added there could be no dispute that Syria had used banned chemical weapons.
"It is in the vital national security interest of the United States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons," Trump said. "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 U.N. Security Council."
Syrian state media confirmed the attack and called it an "agression" by the United States.
The attack took place on Friday at 3:45 a.m. local time, a U.S. official told Reuters, and targeted Syrian aircraft, an airstrip and fuel stations. Another U.S. official said the Russian military had been warned before the U.S. launched the missiles, NBC News reported.
On Friday morning Syrian state news reported that nine civilians, including four children, living in a village beside the base were killed in the attacks.
Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson denied that the attack was a shift in Washington’s Syria policy, saying that it was meant as a signal that Trump is not afraid to take action when warranted.
“This clearly indicates the president is willing to take decisive action when called for,” Tillerson said in a statement few hours after the attack. “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."
The attacks came after Trump, who was attending a summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping at his Florida resort, said earlier Thursday that "something should happen" with Assad as the White House and Pentagon studied military options.
Facing his biggest foreign policy crisis since taking office in January, Trump took the toughest direct U.S. action yet in Syria's six-year-old civil war, raising the risk of confrontation with Russia and Iran, Assad's two main military backers.
Trump ordered the strikes just a day after he pointed the finger at Assad for Tuesday's chemical attack, which killed at least 70 people, many of them children, in the Syrian town of Khan Sheikhoun.
Syria's government denied responsibility for the attack, with Russia’s Defense Ministry saying that the Syrian Air Force destroyed a warehouse in Idlib province where chemical weapons were being produced and stockpiled by anti-government forces before being shipped to Islamic State group in Iraq, RT reported.
In terms of his comments, Trump has until now focused his Syria policy almost exclusively on defeating Islamic State group militants in northern Syria, where U.S. special forces are supporting Arab and Kurdish armed groups.