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Politics

US and allies launch strikes on Syria's chemical weapons facilities

Operation comes ahead of Trump's meeting with North Korea's Kim

U.S. President Donald Trump makes a statement on the Syrian air strike at the White House on Friday.   © Reuters

WASHINGTON -- U.S. President Donald Trump announced on Friday evening that he had ordered precision strikes on Syria targeting President Bashar al-Assad's chemical weapons capabilities.

Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, said the strikes were carried out at 9 p.m. U.S. Eastern Daylight Time and targeted a scientific research center in the greater Damascus area, a chemical-weapons storage facility near the western Syrian city of Homs, and a storage facility and command post in the vicinity.

Trump said that the strike was a joint operation with allies France and the U.K. The move follows the suspected poisonous gas attack in Syria on April 7 that killed more than 40 people. 

Experts said that any such operation would be closely watched in North Korea, as its leader Kim Jong Un prepares to meet Trump in May or early June.

U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis told reporters at the Pentagon on Friday evening that the Assad regime's use of chemical weapons was "unacceptable" and that the regime must be held accountable.

Dunford said the U.S. military did not pre-notify Russia about the strikes but had used normal channels for international aviation issues.

"A short time ago, I ordered the United States Armed Forces to launch precision strikes on targets associated with the chemical-weapons capabilities of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad," Trump said in a televised address from the White House.

"The purpose of our actions tonight is to establish a strong deterrent against the production, spread and use of chemical weapons," he said.

The president turned his criticism on Assad's backers in Moscow and Tehran saying: "To Iran and to Russia, I ask, what kind of a nation wants to be associated with the mass murder of innocent men, women and children?"

Following the strike, Nile Gardiner, a former special adviser to former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and a Heritage Foundation fellow, told the Nikkei Asian Review: "Tonight's strike on Syria will send a clear message to every rogue regime, including North Korea, that they will be held to account for their actions, including the use of chemical weapons. Undoubtedly Kim Jong Un will be taking note of developments in the Middle East."

Before the operation, Evans Revere, a former U.S. State Department official and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, told the Nikkei Asian Review that North Korea would be watching very carefully how the Trump administration handles itself in the Middle East.

"It will look at how determined Washington is in using its arsenal," Revere said, although he expressed doubts that the show of force would persuade Kim to give up his nuclear program, which his regime has "struggled and sacrificed so much to build."

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