Administration

Trump authorizes military strikes in Syria

President Trump announced Friday he has ordered "precision strikes" against Syria in retaliation for an apparent chemical weapons attack by the forces of Syrian leader Bashar Assad.

During a televised address at the White House, Trump said France and the United Kingdom had joined in the strikes, which he said are targeting sites related to Syria's chemical weapons program.

Loud explosions were reportedly heard in the Syrian capital of Damascus as Trump announced the strikes just after 4 a.m. local time in the Middle East. 

Trump called last weekend's chemical attack a "significant escalation" of the Syrian government's efforts to inflict pain on its own citizens - something for which he said Assad deserved to be punished.

"These are not the actions of a man; they are crimes of a monster instead," the president said.

The strike could increase U.S. involvement in the seven-year-old Syrian civil war, something Trump has said he wanted to avoid.

The president declared just 10 days ago he wants to withdraw the roughly 2,000 American troops in Syria fighting Islamic State forces there.

The announcement shocked military commanders, who scrambled to craft a plan to satisfy Trump's desire.

Critics on Friday also seized on Trump's decision not to seek congressional approval for the attacks.

"President Trump's decision to launch airstrikes against the Syrian government without Congress's approval is illegal and - absent a broader strategy - it's reckless," said Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.).

Trump framed the strikes as an effort to deter Assad from using chemical weapons against his own people - and not an open-ended military engagement.

"America does not seek an indefinite presence in Syria," he said. "It's a troubled place. We will try to make it better. But it's a troubled place." 

The president said, however, the U.S. would "sustain" pressure on Syria until the Assad government "stops its use of prohibited chemical agents."'

But Defense Secretary James Mattis later said no additional strikes against Syria are planned.

"Right now, this is a one-time shot," he told reporters at the Pentagon.

Mattis also characterized the strike as a stronger response to Assad than the U.S. strike on a Syrian air base in April 2017 following another chemical weapons attack.

"We used a little over double the number of weapons this year than we used last year," Mattis said. "We were very precise and proportionate, but at the same time, it was a heavy strike."

British Prime Minister Theresa May said in her own statement that the strikes on Syrian chemical-weapons facilities were designed to prevent the strikes from becoming routine. 

"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. "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."

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said he supported both "the action and objective" of the strikes Friday. He noted Trump approved the use of cruise missiles to strike an airfield in Syria and other assets last year as a warning to Assad to stop using chemical weapons following a chemical attack that killed around 80 people. 

"Assad ignored that warning. He ignored the declaratory policy of the United States. He chose to terrorize the people of Douma," McConnell said in a statement, referring to the Syrian town of last weekend's attack.

The joint move Friday makes good on days of threats by Trump to take military action in response for the chemical attack, which killed more than 40 people in the suburb of Damascus.

Trump first warned in an early morning tweet Wednesday that "nice and new and 'smart' " missiles would be headed to Syria, telling its ally Russia to "get ready." The White House later said a final decision on a strike has not yet been made.

Trump had conversations with May and French President Emmanuel Macron this week as the three countries planned their response to the chemical weapons attack. 

On Friday, Trump also specifically called out Iran and Russia for supporting the Syrian government.

"What kind of nation wants to be associate with the mass murder of innocent men, women and children?" he asked.

Updated at 11:26 p.m.

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