The United States, Britain and France, launched military airstrikes in Syria that targeted a scientific research center, a chemical weapons storage facility and another storage facility that also included an important command post.
U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis said the “decisive” efforts were intended to send a “clear message” to the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for its suspected chemical attack against civilians last week and to deter him from doing it again.
Mattis said at a briefing at the Pentagon late Friday that the targets were selected to inflict “long-term degradation” and “maximum damage” to Syria’s stockpile of chemical weapons.
WATCH: U.S. Defense Secretary Mattis Briefs Reporters in Syria Strikes
The defense secretary said he is confident that chlorine was used in the chemical attack in the city of Douma last week that killed at least 40 people and sickened hundreds. He said he was also “not ruling out” the possibility that sarin was also used.
Mattis said the poison gas Assad said he had gotten rid of “still exists.”
The Syrian government has repeatedly denied any use of banned weapons.
General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said more details about the strikes will be available Saturday morning.
Associated Press reporters saw smoke rising from east Damascus and a huge fire could be seen from a distance to the east. Syrian television said the attacks targeted a scientific research center in Barzeh, near Damascus, and an army depot near Homs.
Syrian media reported that air defenses had hit 13 incoming rockets south of Damascus.
WATCH: President Trump Announces Strikes Against Syria
US to sustain pressure
Earlier Friday, U.S. President Donald Trump said the United States was prepared to sustain pressure on Assad until he ended what the president called a criminal pattern of killing his own people with internationally banned chemical weapons.
Trump singled out Syria’s biggest international supporters, Russia and Iran, for failing to stop the Syrian regime’s use of banned chemical weapons.
“Assad’s recent attack and today’s response is a direct result of Russia’s failure to respond,” Trump said.
Congressional leaders are supporting the president’s decision to launch airstrikes in retaliation for an apparent chemical attack against civilians — although there are some reservations.
House Speaker Paul Ryan is praising Trump’s “decisive action in coordination with our allies,” adding, “We are united in our resolve.”
Senate Armed Service Committee Chairman John McCain is applauding the airstrikes but said “they alone will not achieve U.S. objectives in the Middle East.”
Top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer is calling the airstrikes appropriate, but said “the administration has to be careful about not getting us into a greater and more involved war in Syria.”
And House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said, “One night of airstrikes is not a substitute for a clear, comprehensive Syria strategy.”
Not about regime change
British Prime Minister Theresa May said in her country Saturday, according to Reuters, that the attack was “not about intervening in a civil war. It is not about regime change. It is about a limited and targeted strike that does not further escalate tensions in the region and that does everything possible to prevent civilian casualties.”
“We have to remember this is not an attack to institute regime change,” said Brian Katulis of the Center for American Progress. “Bombs from the sky is very different than boots on the ground. ... This is a very focused strike for one purpose: to make sure that countries around the world will not use weapons of mass destruction on a regular basis. I think that’s what the president is trying to do and I think he did the right thing.”
Steven P. Bucci, a retired Army Special Forces officer and former top Pentagon official who is a visiting fellow at The Heritage Foundation’s Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies, said the strikes may put a dent in Assad’s ability to use chemical weapons against Syrians.
“What may change Assad’s behavior is removing the tools which he’s been using,” Bucci said. “That’s kind of what you have to do. You can’t just stomp your feet and wag your finger. You have to force him to stop.”
Lawrence Corb with the Center for American Progress told VOA that the participation of Britain and France in the strikes may cause Russia to have some “second thoughts” because “the last thing the Russians want is to provide an excuse for the United States and its NATO allies to get involved (in Syria) because (Russia’s) objective is to keep Assad in power.”
Katulis said he does not expect Russia to react to the strikes “as long as Russian soldiers are not harmed in any way” and the attacks are not “close to Russian assets.” He said he thought the U.S. and its allies stopped the strikes “just to make sure” that the U.S. “deconflicted with the Russians, that we communicate our intent very clearly and we didn’t start World War III by accident.”