President Donald Trump announced Friday night that he ordered the U.S. military to conduct precision missile strikes in conjunction with French and British allies against the Syrian government.
The order marked a dramatic reversal for Trump, who, as recently as last week, had been saying that he wanted the U.S. to withdraw its forces from Syria.
During Friday’s speech, Trump noted that the strike was underway and did not give further details of the targets or the military assets used.
Trump used the address to also directly call out Russia and Iran, which back the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
“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?” Trump said. “Hopefully someday we will get along with Russia, and maybe even Iran. But maybe not.”
Reuters and the Associated Press reported that several explosions have already occurred in the Syrian capital of Damascus. NBC news has yet to confirm these reports. Reuters, citing sources, added that a scientific research facility was hit.
“This is not about intervening in a civil war. It is not about regime change. It is about a limited and targeted strike that does not further escalate tensions in the region and that does everything possible to prevent civilian casualties,” British Prime Minister Theresa May said in a statement.
“And while this action is specifically about deterring the Syrian Regime, it will also send a clear signal to anyone else who believes they can use chemical weapons with impunity,” May added.
For the last six days, Trump has sharpened his rhetoric against Syria and its most powerful ally Russia and issued a threat via Twitter of a potential U.S. strike against the war-torn country.
“Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and “smart! You shouldn’t be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it,” Trump said.
The tweet came on the heels of an alleged chemical weapons attack believed to be carried out by forces aligned with the Assad regime in Douma, a town that was held by Syrian rebels.
The Assad regime has denied responsibility for the April 7 attack and has since repositioned a significant amount of air assets to Russian-controlled airfields in hopes that Washington would be reluctant to strike there.
A source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told CNBC the U.S. was considering striking eight potential targets. Those targets include two Syrian airfields, a research center and a chemical weapons facility.
The source also noted that a Russian Navy ship was stalking the U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer, the USS Donald Cook, which is the closest U.S. Navy vessel in the region.
Last year, the Trump administration lobbed a total of 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles from the Navy destroyers USS Porter and USS Ross in the eastern Mediterranean.
The missiles hit aircraft hangars, ammunition bunkers, air defense systems and radar. Additionally, the Pentagon said Russian forces in Syria were formally notified before the strike, but Moscow was not involved in the military operation.
Syria began developing chemical weapons in the 1970s with significant help from the Soviet Union. And while the Syrian government only admitted to its chemical weapons program in 2012, its foreign ministry claimed that the stockpile was only for deterrence.
The Syrian government denies ever using chemical weapons during its now seven-year civil war and says it got rid of all its chemical weapons in 2013, which is the same year it ratified the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention that banned the production, storage, and use of chemical weapons.