US launches first strike against Assad; Syria decries ‘dirty war’

(NEW YORK) — The U.S. on Thursday launched a direct attack against the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, firing 59 cruise missiles at a Syrian air base in retaliation for a chemical weapons attack on Tuesday that left more than 80 Syrian civilians dead.

The Syrian government swiftly denounced what it described as “illegal action targeting one of our airbases against our sovereignty,” the first time U.S. forces intentionally targeted Assad’s forces since the beginning of Syria’s six-year civil war. The Syrian army reported that six people had been killed, according to a statement read on Syrian state TV.

The statement put out by the state-run SANA Syrian news agency went on to describe the U.S. as “the initiators of the ongoing dirty war against our people.”

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The Pentagon said that the airstrike, which targeted Shayrat Air Base in Homs Province — where the chemical attack was initiated earlier in the week — struck multiple targets with tomahawk missiles launched between 8:40 and 8:50 p.m. Eastern Standard time, from destroyers USS Porter and USS Ross in the Mediterranean Sea.

A U.S. official said that approximately 20 aircraft were hit in the strikes, and that 58 or 59 missiles reached their intended targets. The official also said that there were no Russian aircraft at the base, nor was there any indication that Syria had detected incoming missiles before the strike.

President Donald Trump said on Thursday evening the strike was in the “vital national security interest” of the U.S.

According to U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the U.S. did not discuss the military strike with Russian President Vladimir Putin or the Russian political leadership in Moscow either before or after it occurred. But the U.S. military said it communicated with the Russian military to minimize any chance of Russian casualties — in particular Russians operating out of the targeted airfield.

But Russia, the principal foreign backer of Assad’s government, blasted the attack, calling the military action a “clear act of aggression” that would “further undermine Russo-American relations.”

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