Update: Ok, well the strikes in Syria got underway on Friday evening and according to the Pentagon, this is a one-off event and is already largely complete.
Here are the bullet points from the Pentagon briefing:
- MATTIS ON U.S. ACTIONS: `RIGHT NOW THIS IS A ONE-TIME SHOT
- MATTIS SAYS CONTINUED U.S. RESPONSE IS UP TO ASSAD’S ACTIONS
- PENTAGON SAYS TARGETS INCL. SCIENTIFIC FACILITY NEAR DAMASCUS
- PENTAGON: TARGET INCL. CHEM WEAPONS STORAGE FACILITY NEAR HOMS
- RIGHT NOW WE HAVE NO MORE ATTACKS PLANNED, MATTIS SAYS
The Pentagon says it did not coordinate any targets with the Russians. Only the usual airspace deconfliction processes were used, meaning that according to the Pentagon, Russia was not informed which targets would be hit. Although it probably didn’t a “stable genius” to figure out what would be targeted ahead of time, which is presumably why personnel were reportedly evacuated earlier in the week.
Syria strike summary…
U.S.: "Everybody ok?"
UK, France: "I'm fine."
Russia: "We just literally dodged a bullet.
Everybody at once: "Except for Bashar!"
Assad: "I did get shot!" pic.twitter.com/wR6IQGIpLI
— Walter White (@heisenbergrpt) April 14, 2018
Earlier (9:02 p.m. ET)
On Friday evening, after days of speculation (and multiple Twitter previews), Trump announced what he’s calling “precision” strikes against regime targets.
BREAKING: President Trump says US military is striking Syria with France and the UK pic.twitter.com/qanpzruhHS
— MSNBC (@MSNBC) April 14, 2018
The coordinated action with France and the U.K. is in retaliation for what the White House calls a “significant escalation in a pattern of chemical weapons use” by the Assad government, which Trump called a “very terrible regime.”
The U.S. says it’s “prepared to sustain” the strikes against regime targets until such a time as the use of chemical weapons ceases. That said, Trump claims the U.S. is not looking to sustain “an indefinite presence” in the country – that’s obviously an attempt to salvage whatever is left of his week-old promise to pull American troops out of Syria “very soon.”
Here’s Trump’s message to Russia and Iran:
"To Iran and to Russia I ask, what kind of a nation wants to be associated with a mass murder of men, women, and children?"
President Trump sends message to Iran and Russia on Syria pic.twitter.com/mkjet9THJk
— MSNBC (@MSNBC) April 14, 2018
"Hopefully someday we will get along with Russia and maybe even Iran, but maybe not," President Trump says after announcing strikes on Syria. pic.twitter.com/C3EnK8iir1
— NBC News (@NBCNews) April 14, 2018
For her part, Theresa May says she has authorized the British military to participate with the U.S. and France in “co-ordinated and targeted strikes to degrade the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons capability and deter their use.”
“This is not about intervening in a civil war,” May insisted, adding that “it is not about regime change.” Rather, the U.K.’s response is intended to “send a clear signal to anyone else who believes they can use chemical weapons with impunity.”
Obviously, this comes as tensions between Downing Street and the Kremlin are running high following the poisoning of a former Russian spy on U.K. soil.
Macron says France’s participation is due to a “red line established in May 2017″ being “crossed.” There is, Macron says, “no doubt about the facts and responsibility” of last weekend’s chemical attack on Douma. He says the strikes are limited to degrading the chemical capabilities of Assad’s regime. France will not, Macron insists, “tolerate the normalization of chemical weapons”. Here he is monitoring the action:
— ABC News (@ABC) April 14, 2018
AP immediately began reporting “loud explosions” over Damascus. Both ships and aircraft are involved in the assault.
SANA reports that Syria is attempting to respond. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says Republican Guard bases and the Scientific Studies Research Center have been hit.
Here’s an AP image that captures the fireworks as the Assad regime attempted to fend off the incoming fire:
— Jon Sopel (@BBCJonSopel) April 14, 2018
— Riam Dalati (@Dalatrm) April 14, 2018
— Riam Dalati (@Dalatrm) April 14, 2018
Here’s a bit of color from Stratfor’s preview out earlier this week (clearly not all of this will come to pass, but it’s potentially useful):
There are, however, some important differences between last year and now. Last April, the United States acted alone when it launched cruise missiles at Syria’s Shayrat air base, which was alleged to be the starting point for a sarin gas attack on the town of Khan Shaykhun. This time, a wider operation could involve multiple strikes across several days and would necessitate significantly more forces, including coalition members France and the United Kingdom. It is possible Saudi Arabia, Qatar and/or the United Arab Emirates could be involved in a hosting and facilitation capacity. More remotely, one or any of these states might involve themselves militarily. The Qatari emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani visited the White House on April 10. The inclusion within a coalition of Qatar and members of the Gulf Cooperation Council has a chance of creating limited military cooperation between the council’s feuding states.
The operation could expand relative to the Shayrat airstrike to focus on degrading the Syrian government’s capability to deliver chemical weapons. French President Emmanuel Macron gave greater weight to the possibility of a wider operation when he said on April 10 that France would target Syria’s chemical facilities in a strike. The new round of strikes might include Dumeir, Marj Ruhayyil and Mezzeh air bases around Damascus, which have been instrumental to the government’s offensive in eastern Ghouta. They also may include a wider range of other locations associated with Syria’s chemical weapons program.
The broader the campaign against Syria the greater the risk to Russian forces in the country. The political fallout of Russian deaths from U.S.-led strikes will depend on if the Russians killed are military members or private military contractors. Private military contractors already have been killed by direct U.S. action in Syria with minimal fallout, leaving open the question of how Russia would react if regulars were to be killed in a U.S.-led campaign. The United States may attempt to mitigate this risk, as it did in April 2017, by warning Russia of impending strikes. The Russian presence in Syria — which is mostly concentrated in Tartous, Latakia and Damascus — also limits U.S. options to a defined set of targets. A more holistic campaign would increase the risk of collision with Russian forces. In contrast, striking Iranian forces in Syria has fewer implications for the United States. This was most recently evinced when Israel struck the T4 air base in Syria on April 8, killing several Iranians, without immediate retaliation from Iran.
Some Russians aren’t happy. Alexander Sherin, first deputy chairman of the defense committee in the lower house of parliament for instance, calls this “a violation of international norms” (kind of like using chemical weapons). He also says Trump is “a criminal” and should be compared to Hitler.
JUST IN: Russian Ambassador to U.S. on Syria strikes: "The worst apprehensions have come true…We warned that such actions will not be left without consequences."
"The U.S.—the possessor of the biggest arsenal of chemical weapons – has no moral right to blame other countries." pic.twitter.com/JwsV8OKvkM
— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) April 14, 2018