Pentagon admits strike does not rule out possible future Syria chemical attacks
LOUAI BESHARA (AFP)
While United States President Donald Trump triumphantly declared "Mission Accomplished!" on Saturday following a US-led missile assault on Syrian chemical weapons facilities, the Pentagon admitted that the assault does not totally eliminate the possibility that Syria's Bashar al-Assad could launch future chemical attacks.
The combined US-French-British operation used ships, a submarine and warplanes to launch a barrage of 105 guided missiles towards three chemical weapons facilities in Syria in response to a suspected chemical weapons attack a week ago on the rebel-held town of Douma that left more than 40 people dead.
"A perfectly executed strike last night. Thank you to France and the United Kingdom for their wisdom and the power of their fine Military," Trump tweeted early Saturday.
"Could not have had a better result. Mission Accomplished!"
Trump drew some criticism for his choice of words: former president George W. Bush notoriously stood on an aircraft carrier just a few weeks after the initial Iraq invasion in 2003 in front of a "Mission Accomplished" banner.
A perfectly executed strike last night. Thank you to France and the United Kingdom for their wisdom and the power of their fine Military. Could not have had a better result. Mission Accomplished!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 14, 2018
The Pentagon backed Trump's assessment, with spokeswoman Dana White saying: "We met our objectives. We hit the sites, the heart of the chem weapons program. So it was mission accomplished."
But it also noted a "residual" element remained.
“In a powerful show of allied unity, we deployed 105 weapons against three targets that will significantly impact the Syrian regime’s ability to develop, deploy and use chemical weapons in the future,” Gen. Kenneth McKenzie said on Saturday during a press briefing at the Pentagon.
McKenzie said the strike would “set the Syrian chemical weapons program back for years,” adding cautiously: “I'm not going to say that they're going to be unable to conduct a chemical attack in the future.”
"I suspect, however, they'll think long and hard about it," he said.
Both the Assad regime and its ally Russia have denied all responsibility for the April 7 attack in Douma, in which Washington believes both sarin and chlorine were used.
Moscow slammed the "aggressive actions" of the Western coalition, but has so far not responded militarily.
The Russian military had vowed to respond to any attack, and President Vladimir Putin's administration had repeatedly warned Trump was taking America down a dangerous path.
Despite the warnings, Washington, Paris and London insisted their own secret intelligence belied Assad's guilt. A US spokeswoman said Friday the allies had "proof.”
US Ambassador Nikki Haley warned her UN counterparts that although the mission was designed as a one-off, that did not preclude further action against Assad.
"I spoke to the president this morning and he said: 'If the Syrian regime uses this poisonous gas again, the United States is locked and loaded,'" Haley said at emergency Security Council talks.
"When our president draws a red line, our president enforces the red line."
The strikes were the biggest foreign military action so far against Syria's regime.
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