A Strike Against Chemical Weapons

Apr 7, 2017

Two days after Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons against his own people in the northern Syrian town of Khan Sheikhoun, the United States struck the airfield from which the April 4 chemical attack was launched. On the orders of President Donald Trump, Tomahawk missiles were fired on Al-Shayrat Air Base from U.S. Navy ships in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea targeting aircraft, fuel storage, air defense systems, and ammunition.

Assad's gas attack on Khan Sheikhoun killed scores of men, women, and children. As President Trump said in announcing the retaliatory U.S. strike, “It was a slow and brutal death for so many. Even beautiful babies were cruelly murdered in this very barbaric attack. No child of God should ever suffer such horror.”

President Trump said the U.S response was “in the vital national security interest of the United States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons.” He called on “all civilized nations to join [the United States] to end the slaughter and bloodshed in Syria, as well as to end terrorism of all kinds.”

Speaking to reporters, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson noted that in 2013 Syria agreed to surrender all of its chemical weapons under the supervision of the Russian government, which committed to act as the guarantor that no chemical weapons would remain in Syria. “Clearly, Russia has failed in its responsibility to deliver on that commitment,” Mr. Tillerson said.

Secretary Tillerson emphasized that the lack of response by the international community after Assad's repeated uses of chemical weapons had the effect of allowing Assad to normalize their use: “It is important that some action be taken on behalf of the international community to make clear that the use of chemical weapons continues to be a violation of international norms.”

Secretary Tillerson also noted that given the chaotic circumstances that exist on the ground in Syria, the presence of chemical weapons presents another threat: that they may fall into the hands of terrorists.

“There are a number of elements that...called for this action,” Mr. Tillerson said. “And in carrying this out, we coordinated very carefully with our international partners...The response from our allies in Europe as well as in the region in the Middle East has been overwhelmingly supportive.”