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U.S. Strikes Syria In Response To Suspect Chemical Attack

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(AP Photo/Hassan Ammar) (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)
WASHINGTON -

Friday night, President Trump announced the U.S. had launched "precision" military strikes against targets inside Syria linked to recent chemical attacks. The strike is the culmination of days of threats by President Trump against the Syrian government over a suspected chemical attack against civilians in Douma on the outskirts of Damascus on Sunday.

"A short time ago, I ordered the U.S. Armed Forces to launch precision strikes on targets associated with the chemical weapons capabilities of Syrian dictator, Bashar al-Assad," the president said from the White House. "A combined operation with the armed forces of France and the United Kingdom is now under way."

CBS News foreign correspondent Seth Doane, the only American network correspondent in Damascus, reported that as President Trump was speaking around 4 a.m. local time, they could hear "rumblings" that appeared to be the airstrikes. Doane reported there is a "real sense of defiance" in Syria, even ahead of the airstrikes.

President Trump's message on the Syria Strikes

Mr. Trump claimed the U.S. will have a "sustained" response to curtail Syria. He also called out Iran and Russia.

"To Iran and Russia I ask, what kind of nation wants to be associated with the mass murder of innocent men, women and children?" Mr. Trump said. "The nations of the world can be judged by the friends they keep."

Secretary of Defense James Mattis said at 10 p.m. Eastern time that the first wave of airstrikes were over. He said there were "no reports of losses" on U.S. and allies. 

Airstrike targets

Mr. Trump described a very specific type of target that the U.S. would go after, which are Syria's chemical weapon capabilities. That could be everything from aircraft that dropped chemical weapons to the headquarters that control the forces that drop the chemical weapons, CBS News national security correspondent David Martin reports.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Joseph Dunford said in a news conference Friday that the three target areas included a scientific research center located in Damascus, a chemical weapons storage facility west of Homs and a nearby storage facility with chemical weapons equipment and an "important" command post.

Dunford said the research center was used for development, production and testing of chemical and biological warfare technology. He explained the facility in Homs was the primary location of Syrian sarin and precursor production equipment

Syrian state-run media claimed the missiles directed toward a target in Homs were "thwarted and diverted from their path, and injured three civilians." 

The U.S. State Department said Friday that it has proof that Syria was behind the suspected chemical attack. 

Strike on Syria - 2018

The airstrikes are the second time Mr. Trump has retaliated against the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad for using chemical weapons against civilians. In April 2017, Mr. Trump ordered a strike of nearly 60 Tomahawk missiles that destroyed a Syrian air base days after Assad used sarin gas in an attack that killed dozens of civilians, many of them children.

Mr. Trump met with his national security team at the White House Wednesday afternoon to discuss options for striking the Syrian regime. Press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement following the meeting that no decision had been made about a response. In the days since the suspected attack, the president has repeatedly warned that a military strike was on the table.

Defense Secretary James Mattis said Wednesday during a congressional hearing that an attack was "not yet in the offing."

Friday's strikes come in response to the suspected poison gas attack on the rebel-held town of Douma near the capital of Damascus that left dozens dead, according to opposition groups. The alleged attack has been denied by Syria and Russia, Assad's closest ally.

Pentagon response to Syria strikes

Mattis addressed the nation from the Pentagon about an hour after President Trump's announcement. He described the difference between the 2017 strikes on Syria verses Friday night's joint operation. 

In last year's strikes, the U.S. targeted the military base from which the weapons were delivered. Friday night's strikes targeted the Syrian regime's chemical weapon research, development and production capabilities.

The operations were conducted with the United Kingdom and France.

"Clearly the Assad regime did not get the message last year," Mattis announced. "This time, our allies and we have struck harder. Together, we have send a clear message to Assad and his murderous lieutenants that they should not perpetrate another chemical weapons attack for which they will be held accountable."

There is another briefing scheduled for Saturday morning at 9:00 a.m. ET. Watch Friday night's full Pentagon briefing below.

© 2018 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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