US missiles blast Syria

Trump demands 'end the slaughter'

AP PHOTO
In this image provided by the U.S. Navy, the USS Ross (DDG 71) fires a tomahawk land attack missile Friday, from the Mediterranean Sea. The United States blasted a Syrian air base with a barrage of cruise missiles in retaliation for this week's gruesome chemical weapons attack against civilians.

AP PHOTO In this image provided by the U.S. Navy, the USS Ross (DDG 71) fires a tomahawk land attack missile Friday, from the Mediterranean Sea. The United States blasted a Syrian air base with a barrage of cruise missiles in retaliation for this week's gruesome chemical weapons attack against civilians.

PALM BEACH, Fla. — The United States blasted a Syrian air base with a barrage of cruise missiles Thursday night in fiery retaliation for this week’s gruesome chemical weapons attack against civilians. President Donald Trump cast the U.S. assault as vital to deter future use of poison gas and called on other nations to join in seeking “to end the slaughter and bloodshed in Syria.”

It was the first direct American assault on the Syrian government and Trump’s most dramatic military order since becoming president just over two months ago. The strikes also risk thrusting the U.S. deeper into an intractable conflict that his predecessor spent years trying to avoid.

Announcing the assault from his Florida resort, Trump said there was no doubt Syrian President Bashar Assad was responsible for the chemical attack, which he said employed banned gases and killed dozens.

“Assad choked out the lives of helpless men, women and children,” Trumped declared.

The U.S. strikes — some 59 missiles launched from the USS Ross and USS Porter — hit the government-controlled Shayrat air base in central Syria, where U.S. officials say the Syrian military planes that dropped the chemicals had taken off.

The U.S. missiles hit at 8:45 p.m. in Washington, 3:45 Friday morning in Syria. The missiles targeted the base’s airstrips, hangars, control tower and ammunition areas, officials said.

Trump ordered the strikes without approval from Congress or the backing of the United Nations. U.S. officials said he had the right to use force to defend national interests and to protect civilians from atrocities.

The U.S. assault marked a striking reversal for Trump, who warned as a candidate against the U.S. being pulled into the Syrian civil war that began six years ago. But the president appeared moved by the photos of children killed in the chemical attack, calling it a “disgrace to humanity” that crossed “a lot of lines.”

U.S. officials placed some of the blame on Russia, one of Syria’s most important benefactors. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, in Florida with Trump, said Moscow had failed in living up to a 2013 agreement that was intended to strip Syria of its chemical weapons stockpiles.

“Either Russia has been complicit or Russia has been simply incompetent in its ability to deliver on its end of the agreement,” Tillerson said.

About 60 U.S. Tomahawk missiles, fired from warships in the Mediterranean Sea, targeted an air base in retaliation for the attack that America believes Syrian government aircraft launched with the nerve agent sarin mixed with chlorine gas. The president did not announce the attacks in advance, though he and other national security officials ratcheted up their warnings to the Syrian government throughout the day Thursday.