April 13 (UPI) — One week after a suspected chemical attack on civilians the United States blamed on the Syrian government, President Donald Trump on Friday ordered strikes on Syrian targets.
“A short time ago I ordered the United States armed forces to launch precision strikes on targets associated with the chemical weapons capabilities of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad,” Trump announced during a 9 p.m. televised address.
The move comes after days of warnings by the U.S. president to the Assad regime and its supporter, the government of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Syrian news outlet Al-Masdar News reported cruise missiles struck rural Damascus and caused explosions at Dumayr Airbase. The report said the Syrian air force uses the base to launch strikes on Eastern Ghouta.
Human rights activists in Syria and Western leaders accused the Assad regime of dropping barrel bombs full of chemicals on the town of Douma last weekend. The attack killed dozens and injured up to 500 people.
“This massacre was a significant escalation in a pattern of chemical weapons use by that very terrible regime,” Trump said, adding that they were the “crimes of a monster.”
Trump said the operation would be conducted in cooperation with the militaries of France and Britain. He said the United States’ response would integrate “all instruments of our power,” including diplomatic and economic avenues.
British Prime Minister Theresa May said she authorized the coordinated response in order to degrade the Assad regime’s chemical weapons capability.
“This persistent pattern of behavior must be stopped — not just to protect innocent people in Syria from the horrific deaths and casualties caused by chemical weapons but also because we cannot allow the erosion of the international norm that prevents the use of these weapons,” she said.
“We have sought to use every possible diplomatic channel to achieve this.”
Trump blamed Iran and Russia for their support of the Assad regime, saying Moscow has failed to live up to its guarantee to make sure the Syrian government got rid of its chemical weapons.
“What kind of a nation wants to be associated with the mass murder of innocent men, women and children?” Trump asked, addressing Iran and Russia. “The nations of the world can be judged by the friends they keep. No nation can succeed in the long run by promoting rogue states … and murderous dictators.”
The U.S.-led strikes come about one year after Trump ordered the launching of 58 Tomahawk missiles targeting a Syrian airfield from which another chemical attack was launched. That chemical attack in Khan Sheikhoun killed and injured hundreds of civilians.