US Allies Support Airstrikes on Syrian Military Targets

07 April, 2017

American allies have praised the United States for launching airstrikes on Syrian military targets to answer a chemical weapons attack in Syria.

U.S. Navy destroyers fired 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles early Friday at an air base in western Syria.

The airstrikes came days after a chemical weapons attack in a rebel-held town in the Syrian province of Idlib. The attack killed about 100 civilians, including many children.

Western officials have accused forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad of using the chemical weapons. The Syrian government blames rebel fighters.

Syrians bury the bodies of victims of a a suspected toxic gas attack in Khan Sheikhun, a nearby rebel-held town in Syria's northwestern Idlib province, April 5, 2017.
Syrians bury the bodies of victims of a a suspected toxic gas attack in Khan Sheikhun, a nearby rebel-held town in Syria's northwestern Idlib province, April 5, 2017.

The raid [on Friday] was the first time U.S. forces have directly attacked Syrian government positions. U.S. officials said the air base targeted was most likely the one used to launch the chemical attack.

U.S. President Donald Trump condemned the "horrible" chemical attack earlier this week. He said it had crossed "many, many lines" and changed his mind about Assad and Syria.

On Thursday, Trump talked about the U.S. airstrikes from Florida, where he has been meeting with China's president. Trump said he ordered the strikes to answer attacks against innocent civilians with "a deadly nerve agent."

"It is in the vital national security interest of the United States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons."

Trump added that all "civilized nations" should join the United States "in seeking an end to the slaughter and bloodshed in Syria."

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the goal of the U.S. military action was to "make clear that these chemical weapons continue to be a violation of international norms."

Many American allies voiced support for the airstrikes. They included Germany, France, Britain, Israel, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and others.

European Union Council President Donald Tusk said on Twitter, the "U.S. strikes show needed resolve against barbaric chemical attacks."

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called the airstrikes, a "concrete step against the Assad regime's war crimes using chemical and conventional weapons."

The airstrikes received support from a number of U.S. congressional leaders, including House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.

However, some lawmakers expressed concern that Trump did not first seek Congressional approval before ordering the military action.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said Trump must officially seek congressional approval if he "intends to escalate the U.S. military's involvement in Syria." She also warned against the U.S. getting involved in "another open-ended war in the Middle East."

The Syrian government has repeatedly denied using chemical weapons against civilians during the country's six-year civil war.

On Friday, Assad's office described the U.S. action as, "reckless," "irresponsible," and not based on true facts. Syria's Foreign Ministry said the airstrikes were designed to "weaken the strength of the Syrian army in confronting terrorist groups."

Both Russia and Iran have been strong supporters of Assad's government and aided his forces in the conflict against rebel fighters.

In Russia, the government condemned the U.S. military action as "aggression against a sovereign state." A spokesman for President Vladimir Putin said the attack would result in "major damage on U.S.-Russia ties."

The U.S. military said the Russian government was warned of the airstrikes before the raid.

Russia has denied any part in the chemical weapons attack. A Russian spokesman blamed the incident on Syrian warplanes striking a supply of chemical weapons belonging to rebel forces.

U.S. military officials said they are investigating possible Russian involvement. The officials said drone aircraft belonging to either to Russia or Syria was seen flying over the area where the chemical attack took place soon after it happened.

Iran also condemned the U.S. action. A Foreign Ministry spokesman said such "unilateral action is dangerous, destructive and violates the principles of international law." Iran's official news agency for parliament said "Russia and Iran won't be quiet against such acts which violate interests of the region."

The American ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, said the U.S. government holds Syria responsible for the chemical attack. However, she told the Security Council on Friday that Russia and Iran both bear a "heavy responsibility" for supporting and protecting Assad.

Haley noted that Russia is supposed to be a guarantor that all chemical weapons were removed from Syria under a 2013 agreement. She added that further action against Syria is possible.

"The United States took a very measured step last night. We are prepared to do more, but we hope that will not be necessary."

The airstrikes came after conflicting statements from the Trump administration on Syria. Just last week, U.S. officials said removing Assad from power was not a "priority." During a recent visit to Turkey, Secretary Tillerson said he thought the future of Assad would "be decided by the Syrian people."

But speaking to reporters Thursday, Tillerson left the door open for U.S. support for new leadership in Syria. He said he thinks this policy should focus on a political solution involving international partners to get Assad to leave power.

"Assad's role in the future is uncertain, clearly, and with the acts that he has taken, it would seem that there would be no role for him to govern the Syrian people."

Several members of Congress have said the focus should now move to additional policy steps in Syria.

One proposal is for the United States to act quickly to set up "safe zones" and take steps to deal with the humanitarian crisis.

Another, proposed by Senator Marco Rubio, is for the U.S. to cooperate with Sunni Arab governments to discuss an "alternative" government in Syria.

Rubio told the "Today Show" that Trump should seek the help of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Turkey – all of which supported the U.S. airstrikes. He said these countries can be important in getting Assad to step down and helping create a new government.

I'm Alice Bryant.

And I'm Bryan Lynn.

Bryan Lynn wrote this story for VOA Learning English, based on reports from VOA News, the Associated Press and other sources. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

deter v. prevent from happening

slaughter – v. to kill a lot of people in a violent way

conventional - adj. of a kind that has been around for a long time and is considered to be usual or typical

escalate - v. to become worse or to make (something) worse or more severe

concreteadj. relating to something real, rather than general ideas or qualities

reckless adj. doing something dangerous or carelessly

unilateraladj. involving only one group or country

alternativeadj. a different choice or available option