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U.S. Responds To Syrian Chemical Weapon Usage

Early Saturday morning, April 14, at 9 a.m. EST, the Pentagon held its second press briefing on the U.S., French and United Kingdom’s airstrike response to Syrian regime’s continued use of chemical weapons on their civilians.


Pentagon spokesperson Dana White began the briefing by making the point clear that the use of chemical weapons anywhere in the world is an inexcusable violation of international law. White noted that the U.S. will not tolerate it, and that Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad regime’s attack against innocent Syrians in Douma was “horrifying and tragic” and “demanded immediate response."

White elaborated that the U.S. and its allies demonstrated solidarity in addressing the atrocities, and that Americans are united during the inexcusable use of chemical weapons, something that White shared “no civilized nation would tolerate."


She noted that they are encouraged by the support received from senators and congressmen on both sides of the aisle and are proud of the U.S. service members who carried out the operation. She added that they demonstrated unwavering courage and commitment to their defense of the American people and the values and ideals the nation represents.


White continued on to say that this operation was “carefully orchestrated and methodically planned” to minimize potential collateral damage. She assured the public that the U.S. took every measure and precaution to strike only what was targeted and that each target was hit successfully.


She noted this strike does not represent a change in U.S. policy, nor was it an attempt to “pose the Syria regime”. White said that the strikes were “justified and legitimate” and was a proportionate response to the Syrian regime’s continued use of chemical weapons on its own people.


“We do not seek conflict in Syria, but we can not allow such grievous violations of international law. Our goal in Syria remains defeating ISIS. We will not stand by passably while Assad, backed by Russia and Iran, ignores international law,” said White. She continued to note that the actions of Syria’s regime dated back to April of 2017 and April of this year are proof that Syria, Russia and Iran have abandoned their commitment to the international community and have instead resorted to illegal tactics against innocent Syrian people.


White called on Russia to honor its commitment to ensure that Assad’s regime dismantles its chemical weapons program and “never uses them again”.


Lieutenant General Kenneth McKenzie, director of the Joint Staff at the Pentagon, gave the preliminary damage assessment, spoke on what weapons were used by the U.S. and allies and also thoroughly briefed the platforms used in Friday night’s attack.


McKenzie noted that some 150 weapons were used against a total of three targets.


“We’re still conducting a more detailed damage assessment, but initial indications are that we accomplished our military objectives without material interference from Syria,” McKenzie said.


The three words he used to describe the operation were “precise, overwhelming and effective."


The first target was the Barzah Research and Development Center, located in the greater Damascus area. Some 76 missiles were deployed to this location, which consisted of 57 tomahawk land cruise missiles and 19 joint air to surface standoff missiles. McKenzie noted that the target was destroyed. “This is going to set the Syrian chemical weapons program back for years,” he said. He briefly stated that three buildings were successfully destroyed in metropolitan Damascus, an area he said is one of the most heavily defended airspace areas in the world.


The second target was the Him Shinshar Chemical Weapons Storage Site, just west of Homs in Syria. A total of 22 weapons were said to have been deployed to this target, which included nine U.S. t-lands, eight storm shadow missiles, three Naval cruise missiles and two SCALP land attack cruise missiles.


The storage site, McKenzie said, was attacked by all coalition forces.

The third target, the Him Shinshar Chemical Weapons Bunker, which was located some seven kilometers from the storage site, was noted by McKenzie to have been successfully hit by seven SCALP missiles.


McKenzie then discussed the specific platforms that were part of this strike. The research center target missiles were delivered from British, French and U.S. air and Naval platforms in the Red Sea, the Northern Arabian Gulf and the Eastern Mediterranean.


At least one U.S. Navy warship operating in the Red Sea participated in the strikes and U.S. B-1 bombers.


Some 30 tomahawk land attack cruise missiles fired from the USS Monterey and seven from the USS Laboon in the Red Sea.


In the North Arabian Gulf, the USS Higgins fired 23 tomahawks.


A submarine, the USS John Warner, fired six tomahawk missiles and a French frigate fired three missiles of their Naval version of the SCALP missiles in the Eastern Mediterranean.
The air assault was said by McKenzie to have involved two U.S. B-1 Lancer bombers, which fired 19 joint air to surface standoff missiles. In addition, McKenzie said the British flew a combination of Tornado and Typhoon jets that fired eight storm shadow missiles. French Rafale and Mirage fighter jets launched nine SCALP missiles.


McKenzie noted that all weapons hit their targets at “very close to their designated time on target” which was noted to have been 4 a.m. in Syria.


“Taken together these attacks on multiple axis were able to overwhelm the Syria air defenses system. It’s also important to note that we flew a variety of defensive counter air, tanker and electronic warfare aircraft in support of these operations. None of our aircraft or missiles involved in this operation were engaged by Syrian air defenses and we have no indication that Russian air defense systems were employed,” McKenzie said.


He said that at the end of the strike mission, all U.S. aircrafts safely returned to their bases.


Over 40 surface to air missiles were employed by Syrian regime, McKenzie said was assessed. Most of these launches occured after the last impact of the U.S.’s strike was over, he noted.


“It is likely that the regime shot many of these missiles on a ballistic trajectory. I mean, by that, without guidance,” McKenzie said. “We assess that the defensive efforts of Syria were largely ineffective and clearly increased risks to their own people based on this indiscriminate response,” he added. To elaborate on that, McKenzie said that if you shoot iron into the air without guidance, it is going to come down somewhere.


He then shared that, by contrast, the precise nature of the U.S. strike and the care in which the U.S.’s allied team planned and executed significantly reduced the risk of collateral damage to civilians.


In summary, McKenzie said that this strike was a “powerful show of allied unity that will significantly impact Syrian regime’s ability to develop, deploy and use chemical weapons in the future”.


He noted that this year’s strike was not only double in size from last year’s, but was also a multi-national effort. Both White and McKenzie said that this strike hit at the “heart of the enterprise” involving research, development and storage, whereas last year’s operation focused more on the delivery of chemical weapons.


Both chlorine and sarin were said to have likely been at the research center at the time of the strike, but that all precautionary measures were taken to mitigate the effect that would have on civilians.


While the U.S. is still assessing which chemical weapon agents were used in the Douma attack on innocent Syrians, according to White, more information will be provided whenmore details are given. As far as evidence, White shares that there is various intelligence, but she “won’t speak to that”. “I would be happy to show evidence if I can,” White noted.

McKenzie replied to a question regarding the reports of Assad’s regime moving the targeted chemical weapons and materials prior to the U.S. strikes by noting that Syria has been aware of the U.S. looking at the targets for “a long time” and that “it is possible some people might have left”. He said that the U.S.’s objective was not to kill people, noting the 4 a.m. Syrian time decision, and that he believes that there was equipment and material associated with each targeted location that was not movable.


“This was far more damaging to Syria,” he said.


White ended the Pentagon’s briefing by stating that the Russian disinformation campaign has already begun and that there has been a 2,000 percent increase in Russian trolls in the last 24 hours. “The U.S. plans to keep you abreast of facts moving forward,” she noted.