Trump declares ‘mission accomplished’ after strikes against Syria
President Trump on Saturday declared “mission accomplished” after approving airstrikes with the United Kingdom and France against chemical weapons production facilities in Syria the previous night.
“A perfectly executed strike last night. Thank you to France and the United Kingdom for their wisdom and the power of their fine Military. Could not have had a better result. Mission Accomplished!” Trump tweeted.
“So proud of our great Military which will soon be, after the spending of billions of fully approved dollars, the finest that our Country has ever had. There won’t be anything, or anyone, even close!” he added in another tweet.
Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White stood by Trump’s characterization during a briefing Saturday morning.
“Operations were very successful. We met our objectives. We hit the sites, the heart of the chemical weapons program,” she said. “So it was mission accomplished.”
“It was a successful mission. What happens next depends on what the Assad regime decides to do,” she added when pressed.
Trump quickly caught flak Saturday after using the phrase “mission accomplished,” which gained notoriety after former President George W. Bush gave a 2003 speech to declare the end of major U.S. combat operations in Iraq with a banner featuring the phrase displayed behind him. Despite the declaration, the U.S. military has stayed involved in Iraq to this day.
“I didn’t think I could be shocked by a tweet anymore but ‘mission accomplished’ was so surprising I had to double check that it was not a spoof,” Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) tweeted Saturday.
Trump announced late Friday during a televised address at the White House that he had ordered “precision strikes” on targets in Syria associated with the government of Syrian leader Bashar Assad. The strikes targeted three sites near the capital of Damascus and in Homs, roughly 100 miles north.
U.S. defense officials on Saturday said they were still conducting a detailed assessment of the effectiveness of the strikes but characterized them as a success.
“I’d use three words to describe this operation: precise, overwhelming and effective,” said Marine Lt. Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., director of the Joint Staff.
McKenzie asserted that the U.S.-led strikes had set the Syrian government’s chemical weapons program back “years.”
Syria launched 40 surface-to-air missiles against the strikes, McKenzie said, adding Syria’s missiles were “largely ineffective” and most were launched after the strikes from the U.S., U.K. and France took place.
McKenzie also pushed back on reports that the targeted facilities in Syria were abandoned this week amid warnings from Western leaders about imminent military action.
“It is possible some people might have left,” McKenzie said, noting the U.S. chose to strike a 3 a.m. local time. “We weren’t trying to kill a lot of people on the objective.”
Defense Secretary James Mattis on Friday night characterized the strikes as a stronger response to Assad than a strike against a Syrian air base last year following a previous chemical weapons attack. The latest strike involved more than 100 weapons.
“Clearly the Assad regime did not get the message last year,” Mattis told reporters in a press briefing at the Pentagon. “This time our allies and we have struck harder.”
“We used a little over double the number of weapons this year than we used last year,” Mattis added. “We were very precise and proportionate, but at the same time, it was a heavy strike.”
Mattis said no additional strikes against Syria are planned, calling it “a one-time shot.”
The Pentagon’s top spokeswoman emphasized to reporters on Saturday morning that “this operation does not represent a change in U.S. policy.”
“We do not seek conflict in Syria, but we cannot allow such grievous violations of international law,” she said.
Trump announced the coordinated strikes with France and the U.K. following a week of deliberation and discussions with British Prime Minister Theresa May and French President Emmanuel Macron over an apparent chemical weapons attack last weekend.
The U.S. and other Western countries have blamed Assad’s government for the attack in the Syrian town of Douma last weekend that left more than 40 people dead.
Syria and its allies, Iran and Russia, have denied that the Assad government used chemical weapons.
On Saturday, leaders from all three countries denounced the joint U.S.-led strikes, with Russian President Vladimir Putin calling it an “act of aggression.” Putin also called for a meeting of the United Nations Security Council.
The Pentagon spokeswoman noted that the airstrikes Friday were carried out by three permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, saying there intended as a message to the Assad government to cease using chemical weapons.
Trump’s announcement of new strikes against Syria came less than two weeks after he declared that he wanted to withdraw the roughly 2,000 American troops in Syria fighting Islamic State forces there.
Critics of the move Friday also seized on the president’s decision to not seek congressional approval for the strikes.
“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.).
Updated: 10:11 a.m.