For the first time since the Syrian Civil War began in 2011, the United States has bombed Syria.
This follows the chemical attack on Tuesday, 4 April, carried out by the Syrian Government in Idlib. The death toll from this sarin gas attack is currently at 86 civilians, including 30 children and 20 women, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Chemical weapons & Syria
The manufacture and proliferation of chemical weapons is banned according to the Chemical Weapons Convention (effective since 1997), to which Syria is a signatory.
Assad has in the past repeatedly denied possessing chemical weapons. However, in April 2013, two opposition-controlled areas in the suburbs around Damascus, Syria were struck by rockets containing the chemical agent sarin. Estimates of the death toll range from at 281 people to 1,729. The attack was the deadliest use of chemical weapons since the Iran–Iraq War of the 1980s.
Back in 2013, under threat of US retaliation, Assad agreed to a Russian-American deal to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons program. However, the sincerity of this promise has always been in question due to the limited presence of international, third-party investigators.
This week’s attack was the deadliest chemical attack in Syria since August 2013.
US military involvement
The day after Tuesday’s attack, the United Nations Security Council met for an urgent session. Holding photographs of dead Syrian children, US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley hinted to the UNSC that the US was mulling over unilateral intervention. She said, “When the United Nations consistently fails in its duty to act collectively, there are times in the life of states that we are compelled to take our own action.”
On 6 April, US President Donald Trump ordered the launch of 59 Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles (TLAMs) from the destroyers USS Porter and USS Ross in the eastern Mediterranean Sea.
- The missiles targeted “aircraft, hardened aircraft shelters, petroleum and logistical storage, ammunition supply bunkers, air defense systems, and radars” located at the al-Shayrat airbase in Syria, according to an official statement from the Pentagon.
- The limited cruise missile strike targeted a Syrian airbase.
- The Pentagon reportedly informed Russia of the strike in advance using its established “deconfliction channel” in an attempt to minimise casualties.
- Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu praised the strike. He said, “Israel fully supports President Trump’s decision and hopes that this message of resolve in the face of the Assad regime’s horrific actions will resonate not only in Damascus, but in Tehran, Pyongyang and elsewhere.”
- US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told press members that steps to organise an international coalition to remove Syrian President Assad were currently “underway”.
- Casualties of the strikes and repercussions are yet to be concretely determined.
Image Courtesy: Reuters
A few hours before Trump’s statement, former Secretary of State and Trump’s rival during the 2016 election Hillary Clinton had said, “Assad had an air force and that air force is the cause of most of the civilian deaths as we’ve seen over the years and as we saw again in the last few days … I really believe we should have and still should take out his airfields and prevent him from being able to use them to bomb innocent people and drop sarin gas on them.”
Trump’s actions were met with varying degrees of approval and disapproval from American politicians and international commentators. Supporters praised the quick and decisive action, noting how this marks a stark difference with the diplomatic doldrums of the Obama administration. Opposers criticised the move for being so abrupt, and said the lack of a proper plan could lead to a prolonged and disastrous military intervention that could further destabilise the region.
Legal experts questioned the constitutionality of Trump’s action. Many Senators said the move was done without consulting Congress or procuring the approval of the same. This could indicate executive overreach, as the US constitution specifically gives the legislature the powers to declare military action.