The United States carried out a missile attack in Syria on Thursday night in response to
the Syrian government’s chemical weapons attack this week that killed more than 80 civilians, American officials said.
Dozens of Tomahawk cruise missiles were fired at an air base in Syria, military officials said.
They said the strike occurred at about 8:45 p.m. Eastern Time, that the target was the Shayrat airfield and that the strike had hit planes, fuel, spare parts and the runway.
According to one military official, 50 Tomahawks were launched from two Navy warships,
striking the airfield from where Syrian President Bashar al-Assad launched warplanes that dropped chemical weapons on Idlib.
The airstrikes were carried out less than an hour after the president concluded a dinner with Xi Jinping, the president of China, at his estate in Mar-a-Lago,
sending an unmistakably aggressive message about Trump’s willingness to use the military power at his disposal.
Trump authorized the strike with no congressional approval for the use of force,
an assertion of presidential authority that contrasts sharply with the protracted deliberations over the use of force
by his predecessor, former President Barack Obama.
Unlike Obama, who weighed — and ultimately rejected — the use of a similar strike at targets after Syria used chemical weapons in 2013,
Trump moved with remarkable speed, delivering the punishing military strike barely 72 hours after the devastating chemical attack that killed 80 people this week.
It was Trump’s first order to the military for the use of force —
other operations in Syria, Yemen and Iraq had been carried out under authorization delegated to his commanders —
and appeared intended to send a message to North Korea, Iran and other potential adversaries
that the new commander in chief was prepared to act, and sometimes on short notice.
The official said that the cruise missile strike was at the more limited end of the military options presented to President Trump Thursday by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.
The cruise missile strike, the official said, was intended to send a message to Assad about the American intention to use military force if he continues to use chemical weapons.
It was the first time that the White House had ordered military action against forces loyal to Assad.
The speed with which the Trump administration responded —
and remarks earlier in the day by American officials who said that options were still being considered —
appeared intended to maximize the element of surprise
and sharply contrasted with the methodical scrutiny of the use of force by the Obama administration.