Trump on Syria airstrikes: “Mission Accomplished!”

ByColleen Curry and Eric Lutz

President Donald Trump on Saturday applauded Friday night’s joint military strikes on Syria, tweeting that they “could not have had a better result.”

“Mission Accomplished!” he tweeted.

The strike — conducted in response to Syrian President Bashar Assad’s most recent alleged chemical attack — was carried out by the United States, United Kingdom and France just after 9 p.m. Eastern time.

It targeted chemical weapons stores, including storage facilities for sarin gas, and was “double” the strikes the U.S. carried out in Syria in April 2017 in response to an earlier chemical attack by Assad, U.S. officials said Friday.

The strikes would result in a “long term degradation of Syria’s ability” to create, use and deploy chemical weapons, U.S. Gen. Joseph Dunford said in a press conference Friday night, adding that the operation was intended to inflict “maximum damage” with minimal risk to civilians.

Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, director of the joint staff, said in a briefing at the Pentagon Saturday morning that the joint forces targeted three locations with 105 weapons. He said the targets were “selected ... carefully to minimize the risk to innocent civilians” and that he was unaware of any civilian casualties from the operation.

Assad’s forces last week conducted an alleged chemical attack that left dozens dead in the rebel-held city of Douma.

Both the Syrian government and Russia, which backs Assad, have denied such a chemical attack took place.

But the U.S., U.K. and France all expressed confidence that chlorine gas and a nerve agent were used in the April 7 attack, and that Assad’s forces were behind it.

“These are not the actions of a man,” Trump said in televised remarks announcing the strikes. “They are crimes of a monster instead.”

Trump warned Assad that the U.S. was prepared to “sustain” its strikes on the Syrian government, but also said that “America does not seek an indefinite presence in Syria.”

Still, the strikes Friday risk drawing the U.S. deeper into the Syrian conflict, and could further heighten tensions between the U.S. and Russia, which threatened earlier in the week to shoot down any U.S. missiles launched at the Syrian government.

Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, condemned Russia on Friday over its support for Assad, saying before the U.N. security council that “Russia alone” was responsible for enabling the Syrian strongman.

“If Russia had lived up to its commitment, there would be no chemical weapons in Syria and we would not be here today,” Haley said.

But Vassily Nebenzia, Russia’s ambassador to the U.N., accused Western powers on Friday of using the alleged attack as a pretense to oust Assad and to check Russia’s power, telling the U.N. security council that Russia would consider such a strike a “breach of international law.”

“What kind of a nation wants to be associated with the mass murder of innocent men, women and children?” Trump said in his remarks Friday. “Nations of the world can be judged by the friends they keep. No nation can succeed in the long run by promoting rogue states, brutal tyrants and murderous dictators.”

“Russia must decide if it will continue down this dark path or if it will join with civilized nations as a force for stability and peace,” Trump added.

Trump’s tweet Saturday morning recalled former President George W. Bush’s infamous declaration, standing aboard an aircraft carrier in 2003, that the U.S. had accomplished its mission in Iraq.

“Major combat operations in Iraq have ended,” Bush said at the time, standing before a large banner reading “Mission Accomplished.” “In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed.”

Asked about the president’s tweet on Saturday, Pentagon spokesperson Dana White said that the joint forces had “met our objective.”

“Last night operations were very successful,” White said in a press conference Saturday. “We hit the sites, the heart of the chem weapons program. So, it was mission accomplished.”