On Friday the United States retaliated to the use of chemical weapons on Syrian civilians with a targeted missile strike on a government controlled airbase in Syria. The Pentagon stated 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles were fired from two warships located in the Mediterranean. The strike targeted the Shayrat airfield, from which US officials believe Tuesday’s attack in Khan Sheikhoun had been launched. The Syrian army has reported that at least six people were killed in the massive early morning strike. In a statement broadcasted on the state-run SANA new agency the military said the US strikes were done on a “pretext” of the Khan Sheikhoun attack without all facts being disclosed. The Syrian army went onto denounce the US “aggression” as a violation of international law and by attacking the Shayrat airfield the US has made itself a partner of “terrorist groups” This is the first direct military action the United States has taken against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his forces in the now seven year long civil conflict.
Hours after the strikes US President Donald Trump announced to waiting media that “there can be no dispute that Syria used banned chemical weapons, violated its obligations under the chemical weapons convention and ignored the urging of the UN Security Council.” Trump went on to state, “…previous attempts at changing Assad’s behaviour have all failed and failed very dramatically.” However while some are supportive of a more aggressive and hard-line US role in the conflict, Russia has strongly condemned the strikes. Russia, a key military ally of the Assad government stated Washington’s actions would “inflict major damage on US-Russian ties” and have already responded by suspending a US deal for preventing mid-air incidents in Syrian air-space. Russia has supported Syrian claims of no involvement in the gas strike, claiming opposition forces were producing and stockpiling chemical weapons in a location, which was struck by a government shell.
Academics and experts have also voiced their concerns regarding the strike, specifically what this action will mean for the Unite States’ involvement in Syria going forward. Christopher Swift, a professor of national security at the prestigious Georgetown University identified the importance of establishing whether President Trump’s actions were spontaneous or a part of a bigger strategy. Swift acknowledges that, lacking a plan, the US’ strike may have caused more harm than good.
While a definitive answer is unclear regarding the chemical attack on Tuesday, what is clear is the US’ response has raised tension in an already volatile situation. This action of direct military intervention could have very serious ramifications for the conflict in Syria and we are potentially witnessing a very serious escalation of great powers present in Syria.