Posts Tagged ‘cruise missiles’

Japan prepares to send troops to South Korea in case of evacuation

April 18, 2017


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Japan’s Defence Minister Tomomi Inada arrives at the prime minister’s official residence in Tokyo on April 5, 2017, after North Korea launched a ballistic missile into the Sea of Japan.PHOTO: AFP

TOKYO (AFP) – Japan will prepare to send troops to the Korean peninsula to protect its nationals there if a crisis requires their evacuation, its defence chief reportedly said on Tuesday (April 18).

The remarks by Defence Minister Tomomi Inada came as fears grow over North Korea, which is believed to be on the verge of a sixth nuclear test and has threatened to launch missile tests “every week”.

But her statement in parliament reported by Jiji Press and public broadcaster NHK is likely to be controversial in South Korea.

There, memories of Japan’s brutal colonial occupation from 1910-1945 have hindered relations and the possibility of Japanese troops on its soil would likely cause anger.

Inada, a noted hawk who supports a bigger role for Japan’s military, said that the country would be ready to mobilise its troops if Japanese needed to be evacuated “but have difficulties in leaving via private means of transportation”.

Inada said such a dispatch of troops is allowed under Japanese law, which also requires the consent of the related country.

Japan’s constitution renounces the right to wage war and the country’s military is limited to self defence in the strictest sense.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, however, is pushing to expand the military’s role and legislation was passed in 2015 that could see troops engage in overseas combat for the first time since the end of World War II.

Inada’s comments came as US Vice President Mike Pence arrived in Japan after visiting South Korea, the first leg of his Asian tour, and observed the Demilitarized Zone separating the two Koreas.

Pence met Abe on Tuesday, reiterating Washington’s commitment to their decades-old alliance.

Japan Discusses How to Evacuate Citizens From South Korea if Crisis Hits

April 14, 2017

TOKYO — Japan’s National Security Council discussed how to evacuate its nearly 60,000 citizens from South Korea in the event of a crisis, a government official said on Friday, amid rising concern over North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme.

North Korea denounced the United States on Friday for bringing “huge nuclear strategic assets” to the Korean peninsula as a U.S. aircraft carrier group headed for the region amid concerns the North may conduct a sixth nuclear test.

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Photo: A South Korean woman goes to work past a TV screen showing North Korean millile capabilities. AP photo

Besides commercial ships and planes, Japan would want to send military aircraft and ships to assist in the evacuation if the South Korean government agreed, the official, familiar with the discussion, said. He declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the topic.

The NSC, in a meeting on Thursday, also discussed how to cope with a possible flood of North Korean refugees into Japan, among whom might be North Korean spies and agents, Japanese media reported.

Tension has risen since the U.S. Navy fired 59 Tomahawk missiles at a Syrian airfield last week in response to a deadly gas attack, raising concerns about U.S. President Donald Trump’s plans for North Korea, which has conducted missile and nuclear tests in defiance of UN and unilateral sanctions.

The United States has warned that its policy of “strategic patience” is over.

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference on Friday that the government was always collecting and analysing information about North Korea’s moves but refrained from commenting on details.

“At present, we are in close contact with the United States and South Korea and in addition to urging (the North) to refrain from provocative actions and observe relevant U.N. Security Council resolutions, we will take all necessary steps to protect our people’s lives and assets,” Suga said.

Japan began working on plans to respond to a potential crisis on the Korean peninsula in February, after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met Trump at a summit in the United States, Kyodo news agency said.

Attendees at a Feb. 23 NSC meeting forecast a crisis on the Korean peninsula could prompt large numbers of refugees turning up in boats along the coast of the Sea of Japan, Kyodo said.

The attendees called for preparations for a humanitarian response along with tightened security given the possibility that North Korean soldiers could enter Japan pretending to be refugees, Kyodo said, quoting unidentified government sources.

A Japanese ruling party lawmaker and a government source told Reuters this week that coping with possible North Korean refugees would be among the matters for which Japan had to prepare.

But they said there was concern that any sign of actual preparations for a possible crisis would boost public anxiety.

(Reporting by Nobuhiro Kubo, Kaori Kaneko, Linda Sieg, Ami Miyazaki and Kiyoshi Takenaka; Editing by Nick Macfie)


Iran warns US action in Syria ‘won’t go unanswered’

April 11, 2017


© US NAVY/AFP/File | The USS Porter destroyer conducts strike operations against a Syrian airbase from the Mediterranean Sea on April 7, 2017

TEHRAN (AFP) – Any new US action in Syria “will not go unanswered”, Iran’s Defence Minister Hossein Dehgan warned Tuesday after America threatened to follow up a strike last week with more attacks.

The United States last week fired a volley of cruise missiles at a Syrian airbase in response to an alleged chemical weapons attack that killed 87 civilians in a rebel-held town.

The White House on Monday warned that further use of chemical weapons or chlorine-laden barrel bombs could bring more US military retaliation.

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Iran’s Defence Minister Hossein Dehgan

“The Americans will have to pay a heavy price if they repeat their action and they must know that their actions will not go unanswered,” Dehgan said during a telephone conversation with Russian counterpart Sergei Shoigu.

Dehgan accused American leaders of lying by saying they wanted to “fight terrorists”.

“Instead of bombing, the Syrian army and the Syrian people are being bombed,” Dehgan said, quoted in a statement on the website of his ministry.

“The resistance front will continue to fight resolutely against terrorists despite the willingness of the Americans,” he added, referring to an anti-Western alliance that includes Iran, Syria and Lebanon’s Hezbollah.

The statement quoted Shoigu as saying that “Russia is determined to use its political and military capabilities to bring decisive blows to terrorists”.

Dehgan also spoke with his Syrian counterpart Fahd Jassem al-Freij, the defence ministry said.

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Syria’s Defense Minister Fahd Jassem al-Freij (left) with Iran’s Defence Minister Hossein Dehgan

The two agreed to “strengthen their cooperation to step up operations against terrorists”, it said.

They also called for a commission to reveal “the truth about the Americans’ false claims” regarding last week’s suspected chemical attack on Khan Sheikhun.

“This kind of action (by the US) will have no effect on the determination of the resistance front to fight terrorists,” they added.

Moscow said on Tuesday that Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, will host three-way talks with his counterparts from Syria and Iran this week.

Iraq’s Sadr warns Assad could share Kadhafi’s fate — Calls for Assad to resign

April 11, 2017


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Iraqi cleric Moqtada Sadr — Al-Sadr is the most revered name in Shia Iraq and a friend if Iran and Russia

NAJAF (IRAQ) (AFP) – Iraqi cleric Moqtada Sadr on Tuesday warned Syrian President Bashar al-Assad that he risked suffering the same fate as slain Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi if he did not step down.

The maverick cleric had last week condemned the suspected deadly use of chemical weapons by Assad’s forces against civilians, becoming a rare Shiite leader to openly challenge the Syrian president’s legitimacy.

Sadr issued a new statement on Tuesday that reiterated his position.

“I have urged him to step down to preserve the reputation of the Mumanaa and to escape a Kadhafi fate,” he said, using a word that refers to a so-called anti-Western “resistance front” that includes Lebanon’s Hezbollah, Iran and Syria.

The Libyan strongman was captured and brutally killed in 2011 after 42 years in power while trying to flee Sirte, his hometown, as NATO-backed rebels closed in.

A chemical attack which has been widely blamed on Assad’s regime killed 87 civilians, including 31 children, in the rebel-held Syrian town of Khan Sheikhun on April 4.

The United States subsequently fired a barrage of 59 cruise missiles at Shayrat air base in Syria to punish Damascus, despite its denials of responsibility.

Sadr, who led a militia that fought the US occupation of Iraq, also condemned the American missile strike, urging all foreign parties involved in the Syria conflict to withdraw.

He had similar advice for two other leaders: President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi of Yemen and Bahrain’s King Hamad.

“I have not only called for the resignation of Bashar, but I had already called for Abedrabbo and the ruler of Bahrain to step down because they are still oppressing their people.

Jets launch raids from Syria base hit by US

April 7, 2017


© SANA/AFP | A handout picture from the Syrian Arab News Agency reportedly shows Syrian Armed Forces visiting Shayrat airfield after American forces fired a barrage of 59 cruise missiles at the airbase overnight


Two warplanes took off from a central Syrian airbase Friday hours after it was struck by US missiles and carried out bombing raids nearby, a monitoring group said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the aircraft “took off from inside the Shayrat base, which is partially back in service, and struck targets near Palmyra”.

The monitor could not specify whether they were Syrian or Russian planes, or what they had bombed.

Early on Friday morning, the US military fired 59 Tomahawk missiles at the Shayrat air field in response to a suspected chemical attack this week that has been widely blamed on the Damascus regime.

A Syrian military source told AFP that Syria’s armed forces were warned about possible US military action hours before the strike took place.

“We took precautions in more than one military point, including in the Shayrat airbase. We moved a number of airplanes towards other areas,” the source said.

US officials said Russia’s military in Syria had been informed of the strike beforehand in order to avoid casualties that could prompt a broader crisis.

The US said the missiles targeted radars, aircraft, and air defence systems and destroyed around 20 Syrian planes, but said the runway was intact.

Russia’s military said the strike had an “extremely low” military impact, with fewer than half of the 59 missiles reaching the airbase.

U.S. forces fire a barrage of cruise missiles at Syrian airbase in response to Assad’s use of chemical weapons

April 7, 2017
Rouba El-Husseini with Andrew Beatty in Palm Beach
April 7, 2017
US President Donald Trump’s reaction to a suspected sarin attack in Syria prompted a massive response with 59 Tomahawk missiles fired from the USS Porter and the USS Ross (AFP Photo/Ford WILLIAMS)

Beirut (AFP) – US forces fired a barrage of cruise missiles at a Syrian airbase Friday in response to what President Donald Trump called a “barbaric” chemical attack he blamed on the Damascus regime.

The massive strike — the first direct US action against President Bashar al-Assad’s government and Trump’s biggest military decision since taking office — marked a dramatic escalation in American involvement in Syria’s six-year civil war.

It followed days in which images of dead children and victims suffering convulsions from the suspected sarin gas attack in the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhun shocked the world.

Syria’s regime has denied any use of chemical weapons and state media on Friday described the US strike — which was reported to have pulverised the base and killed at least four servicemen — as an “act of aggression”.

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Donald Trump announces Syria strile, April 6, 2017

Russia too denounced the US action, with Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov saying President Vladimir Putin considered it “aggression against a sovereign state” that would inflict “considerable damage” on US-Russia ties.

Trump announced the strike in a brief televised address delivered hours after the UN Security Council failed to agree on a probe into the suspected chemical attack.

Declaring it in America’s “vital national security interest” to prevent the spread of chemical weapons, Trump accused Assad of a “very barbaric attack” in which “even beautiful babies were cruelly murdered.”

“Tonight I call on all civilised nations to join us in seeking to end this slaughter and bloodshed in Syria and also to end terrorism of all kinds and all types,” Trump said.

Officials said the US fired 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at the Shayrat Airfield at 3:40 am Syrian time on Friday.

– ‘Blown to pieces’ –

The missiles were fired from the USS Porter and the USS Ross, which belong to the US Navy’s Sixth Fleet and are located in the eastern Mediterranean.

The strike targeted radars, aircraft, air defence systems and other logistical components at the military base south of Homs in central Syria, from where Washington believes Tuesday’s deadly strike was launched.

Officials said measures had been put in place to avoid hitting sarin gas they said was stored at the airfield.

“The airbase was almost completely destroyed — the runway, the fuel tanks and the air defences were all blown to pieces,” the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The Britain-based monitoring group said at least four servicemen were killed, including an air commodore.

The base was the second most important for Syria’s air force, Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP, after the Latakia airbase in Assad’s coastal heartland where Russia also maintains extensive facilities.

Homs governor Talal Barazi told AFP there were several dead and wounded at the base and that large parts of it were on fire.

“It will take some time to determine the extent of the damage,” he said. “Of course we condemn this, all action targeting Syrian military bases is condemnable.”

Syrian state media confirmed the strike, with news agency SANA saying: “This American aggression follows the slanderous media campaign by some countries… after what happened in Khan Sheikhun.”

Iran, another key Assad ally, also condemned the action.

– Opposition urges more US action –

But Syria’s opposition National Coalition hailed the strike and called for further US action against Assad’s air force.

“The Coalition welcomes the strike and urges Washington to neutralise Assad’s ability to carry out air raids,” spokesman Ahmad Ramadan told AFP. “We hope for more strikes… and that these are just the beginning.”

The strike came despite a warning from Russia of potential “negative consequences” if Washington carried out military action in Syria.

Russian has insisted that the chemical weapons that caused the deaths in Khan Sheikhun had been stockpiled by “terrorists” on the ground and possibly released by a conventional strike.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson accused Russia — which props up the Assad regime and agreed to mothball Syrian chemical weapons in a 2013 deal — of being incompetent or complicit in permitting Assad’s actions.

Russian military officials in Syria were informed of the strike beforehand in order to avoid casualties that could prompt a broader crisis.

The White House was quick to paint the decision as limited to deterring the use of chemical weapons, and not part of a broader military campaign to remove Assad by force.

“The intent was to deter the regime from doing this again, and it is certainly our hope that this has had that effect,” Pentagon spokesman Navy Captain Jeff Davis told reporters.

Tillerson said the attack should leave no one in any doubt that Trump is willing to act if any actor “crosses the line.”

It will send ripples around the world, from Pyongyang to Tehran, as nations and leaders take the measure of the novice but often bellicose president.

The timing of the strike, during a meeting with China’s President Xi Jinping, will give weight to Trump’s threats to deal with North Korea’s nuclear and missile programmes unilaterally if necessary.

– Sends a ‘strong message’ –

Allies rushed to support the US military action including Britain, Saudi Arabia and Israel.

“In both word and action, President Trump sent a strong and clear message today that the use and spread of chemical weapons will not be tolerated,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said.

On Wednesday, Trump had decried the suspected attack — which killed at least 86 people, including 27 children, and wounded more than 500 — as an “affront to humanity.”

“It crossed a lot of lines for me,” Trump said, alluding to Barack Obama’s failure to enforce his own “red line” on the use of chemical weapons in Syria four years ago.

In 2013, Trump had urged then-president Obama not to intervene against Assad.

The Khan Sheikhun incident appears to have marked a turning point for Trump, just days after his administration signalled it was no longer seeking the Syrian leader’s departure from power.

Tillerson called Thursday for “a political process that would lead to Assad leaving” and said his future role in the country was “uncertain.”



Israel backs ‘strong message’ sent by US Syria strike — “The use and spread of chemical weapons will not be tolerated”

April 7, 2017


© US NAVY/AFP | The Israeli military said it had been informed in advance of a massive US cruise missile strike on a Syrian airbase


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Friday he supports the “strong and clear message” sent by a US strike in neighbouring Syria in retaliation for a suspected chemical attack.

The Israeli military said it had been informed in advance of a massive cruise missile strike on a Syrian airbase, the first US operation against the Damascus regime in six years of civil war.

“In both word and action, President (Donald) Trump sent a strong and clear message today that the use and spread of chemical weapons will not be tolerated,” a statement from Netanyahu’s office said.

“Israel fully supports President Trump’s decision and hopes that this message of resolve in the face of the Assad regime’s horrific actions will resonate not only in Damascus, but in Tehran, Pyongyang and elsewhere.”

Trump said the strike on the Shayrat airbase with 59 Tomahawk missiles fired from warships in the eastern Mediterranean, was in retaliation for what he said was a “barbaric” chemical attack on a rebel-held town in northwestern Syria by the Damascus regime.

There had been international outrage over Tuesday’s suspected attack that killed dozens of civilians but Moscow stood by its Damascus ally and warned of the negative consequences of any military action.

As a result, a UN Security Council debate on a Western-drafted resolution that would have sanctioned the Syrian regime was again delayed on Thursday amid Russian insistence that the chemical weapons that caused the deaths had been stockpiled by jihadists on the ground and released by a conventional strike.

Washington said it had given advance notification of its military action to both Russia and its Western and Arab allies in a coalition fighting the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq.

Trump Vows Response on Syria, Military Draws Up Options

April 6, 2017

Tillerson says Assad has no role in Syria’s future in wake of this week’s chemical attack

Hassan Youssef, a victim of Tuesday’s suspected chemical attack in Syria, received medical care Thursday in a nearby hospital.

Hassan Youssef, a victim of Tuesday’s suspected chemical attack in Syria, received medical care Thursday in a nearby hospital. PHOTO:OMAR HAJ KADOUR/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

The U.S. military is crafting options to strike Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime as President Donald Trump vowed a U.S. response to this week’s suspected chemical weapons attack in Syria and said “something should happen” with the Syrian leader.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Mr. Assad has no role in Syria’s future, backing away from the Trump administration’s position days earlier that he could remain in power. Mr. Tillerson said Washington backs a political process that would lead to Mr. Assad leaving power.

“With the acts that he has taken, there would be no role for him to govern the Syrian people,” Mr. Tillerson said.

Pentagon officials said Thursday that planning for a possible military strike accelerated after Mr. Trump said the day before that the suspected Syrian regime strike said it went “beyond a red line” for him.

The new Pentagon activity came as the Turkish health ministry said Thursday that autopsy results of three victims of Tuesday’s gas attack in Syria suggest the banned chemical agent sarin was the cause of death and as international pressure mounts for a wider investigation into who was responsible for the mass civilian death toll.

U.S. defense officials said that they have little doubt that the attack, which killed at least 85 people, was carried out by Mr. Assad’s air force.

The Pentagon has determined that Syrian pilots carried out airstrikes on a village in northwestern Syria and that victims were killed by suspected chemical weapons. They have also rejected the Russian contention that the victims were killed because an airstrike hit a rebel chemical weapons depot.

“The case is pretty concrete,” one U.S. military official said Thursday.

The U.S. military already has plans for striking the Assad regime that it can use as a template for hitting Syria, U.S. officials said. In 2013, the Pentagon crafted plans to hit Mr. Assad’s chemical weapons storage sites after the Syrian leader used sarin gas in a strike near Damascus, killing 1,400 people, according to U.S. estimates.

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President Donald Trump indicated the possibility of a policy shift on Syria during a press conference on Wednesday, after a chemical attack left dozens of Syrian citizens dead. Where may Mr. Trump be heading? WSJ’s Jason Bellini has #TheShortAnswer. Photo: Getty

One big concern for the U.S. military is the potential for a backlash from a U.S. strike on Mr. Assad for American forces operating in northern Syria. The U.S. has been sending more forces into northern Syria as part of an intensifying campaign against Islamic State.

The U.S. is militarily capable of striking Mr. Assad quickly. The USS George H.W. Bush is already in the Persian Gulf, where the aircraft carrier is launching airstrikes against Islamic State extremists in Iraq and Syria. The Bush is accompanied by destroyers equipped with guided missiles that also could be part of a U.S. response.

But a major complication for any strike is Russia, which is aiding Mr. Assad. Russia has created a sophisticated air defense system for the Syrian regime. Russian pilots and soldiers work side-by-side with their Syrian counterparts. And Moscow has provided Mr. Assad with vital political support that has thwarted international efforts to force him from power.

The Turkish health ministry said the autopsies showed that victims suffered excess fluid in the lungs, increased lung weight and internal bleeding before death, which it said suggested poisoning by sarin. It didn’t provide any further details, or reasons why the ministry is pointing to sarin as opposed to other nerve agents or poisonous gases.

“Based on the test results, evidence was detected in patients which leads one to think they were exposed to a chemical substance [sarin],” the ministry said.

Biological samples from the victims, a 35-year-old Syrian woman and two Syrian men, 25 and 26, were taken during autopsies that started late Wednesday and continued until Thursday morning. The tests were conducted by forensics teams in the southern city of Adana with representatives from the U.N.’s Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and the World Health Organization in attendance, according to the Adana prosecutor’s office.

Mr. Trump on Wednesday said at a news conference with the visiting King Abdullah II of Jordan that the suspected chemical attack had changed his views about Syria and Mr. Assad. The Trump administration had said days earlier that they were not focused on removing Mr. Assad from power, a departure from Obama administration policy.

Mr. Tillerson is heading to Russia next week for meetings where discussions about Syria are likely to be tense. In Washington, Democratic and Republican lawmakers in Washington are pressing Mr. Trump to strike.

“This is a test for the new administration, but also for the entire country,” said Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, which oversees the U.S. military. “Assad is trying to see what he can get away with. The rest of the region and the world is also watching to see how our country will respond.”

Mr. McCain urged Mr. Trump on Thursday to attack Mr. Assad’s air force to prevent it from carrying out airstrikes.

“This capability provides Assad a strategic advantage in his brutal slaughter of innocent civilians, both through the use of chemical weapons as well as barrel bombs, which kill far more men, women and children on a daily basis,” he said.

Write to Dion Nissenbaum at and Margaret Coker at




Tillerson: ‘No role’ for Assad in governing Syria — Pentagon presenting possible options to Trump on military retaliation

April 6, 2017

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A man carries the body of a dead child after a chemical weapons attack on the town of Khan Sheikhoun, Syria, on Tuesday, April 4, 2017.

The Hill

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Thursday said the U.S. is considering an “appropriate response” to the Syrian government’s apparent use of chemical weapons and that he sees “no role” in the country for President Bashar Assad.

“The process by which Assad would leave is something that requires an international community effort both to first defeat ISIS within Syria, to stabilize the Syrian country to avoid further civil war and then to work collectively with our partners around the world through a political process that would lead to Assad leaving,” Tillerson said at a news conference in Palm Beach, Fla.

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“Assad’s role in the future is uncertain, clearly, and with the acts that he has taken it would seem that there would be no role for him to govern the Syrian people,” he said.

On Tuesday, a chemical attack in northern Syria killed more than 70 civilians, including several children.

Eyewitnesses and aid workers say the strike was carried out by Syrian government forces.

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President Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One on Thursday that “something should happen” to Assad in retaliation for the chemical weapons attack, though he declined to say what role the U.S. would play.

“He’s there, and I guess he’s running things, so I guess something should happen,” Trump said.

The president would not confirm reports on Thursday that the U.S. was weighing a military response in Syria, and that the Pentagon was presenting possible options to Trump on military retaliation.

“I don’t want to say what I’m going to be doing with respect to Syria,” he added.

Tillerson’s remarks on Thursday marked a change of tone for the secretary of State, who said last week that the “longer-term status of President Assad will be decided by the Syrian people.”

That sentiment was echoed by U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, who told reporters last week that removing Assad from power would no longer be a “priority” of the U.S.

Haley, however, offered a sweeping condemnation of the chemical weapons attack on Wednesday during an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council, in which she tore into Russia for its continued support of the Assad regime and called for swift action against the Syrian government.

“We don’t yet know everything about yesterday’s attack. But there are many things we do know,” she said. “We know that yesterday’s attacks bears all the hallmarks of the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons. We know that Assad has used these weapons against the Syrian people before.”

In the wake of the chemical attack on Tuesday, Trump issued a statement condemning the strike and placing blame on the Obama administration for not previously taking action in Syria.

But on Wednesday, the president toughened his rhetoric. The chemical weapons attack, he said in the White House Rose Garden, had a “big impact” on him and altered his view of Assad and Syria.

“I will tell you that attack on children yesterday had a big impact on me — big impact,” Trump said in the White House Rose Garden.

“My attitude toward Syria and Assad has changed very much. … You’re now talking about a whole different level.”

– This story was updated at 4 p.m.

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Abdul-Hamid Alyousef holds the bodies of his twin babies, Aya and Ahmed. Alaa Alyousef via AP

What military options does Trump have in Syria?

April 6, 2017

Updated 12:31 PM ET, Thu April 6, 2017



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President Donald Trump and Jordan’s King Abdullah II hold a news conference in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington, Wednesday, April 5, 2017. (AP Photo, Andrew Harnik)


(CNN)US President Donald Trump faces perhaps his toughest foreign policy challenge yet amid calls for the United States to take a stand following a chemical attack on a rebel-held town in Syria that killed scores of civilians.

Trump said that Tuesday’s attack “crossed a lot of lines” for him and that his “attitude towards Syria and Assad has changed very much.” And Trump told some members of Congress that he’s considering military action in Syria in response, a source familiar with the calls told CNN on condition of anonymity.
Trump has not yet spelled out what his administration will do, if anything. But inevitably, speculation is focused on whether he might embark on military action where former US President Barack Obama did not.
So what are the possible military options for the US in Syria?

Strategic airstrikes


The US could seek to carry out punitive airstrikes against Syrian military assets or even its leadership, said Justin Bronk, a research fellow in the military sciences team at the UK-based RUSI think tank.
But a major obstacle lies in the way: Russian air defense systems within Syria which effectively give Moscow control of the airspace over much of Syria.
US: Russia ships new anti-missile system into Syria

US: Russia ships new anti-missile system into Syria 00:54
Russia has been building up its air defenses in Syria since intervening in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in 2015, with bases in Hmeimim, Latakia and Tartus. It has moved advanced S-300 and S-400 missile defense systems into place and also has its own fighter jets to deploy.
Since it is highly unlikely that Russia would allow US strikes against its ally, the US would have to use stealth aircraft such as the F-22 or B-2 Spirit to try to evade detection by the Russian air defenses, said Bronk. That would be a very expensive option with a limited number of aircraft available.
If strikes went ahead, potential targets could include military depots, storage sites or Syrian air defenses, Bronk said.
A complicating factor is that Russian specialists could be embedded with Syrian forces, he said. The Trump administration would have to weigh whether it is willing to risk any Russian casualties, given the potential to escalate hostilities.
A Russian Sukhoi Su-35 bomber lands at the Russian Hmeimim military base in Latakia province, in the northwest of Syria on May 4, 2016.

Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov warned in October against any strikes from the air against Syrian troops.
“Operators of Russian air defense systems won’t have time to identify the origin of airstrikes, and the response will be immediate,” he told reporters. “Any illusions about ‘invisible’ jets will inevitably be crushed by disappointing reality.”
“With the Russian military as a dominant power in Syria, the options for the United States are limited,” said Ambassador Nicholas Burns, former US Under Secretary for Political Affairs and now professor of international politics at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.
“In 2013, I think President Obama should have used American air power against the Syrian Air Force. It would have taken away the ability to use chemical weapons against their population. That was an opportunity that was missed nearly three-and-a-half years ago.”
Daniel Serwer, director of the Conflict Management Program at Johns Hopkins University, said the US could explore a number of options.
These could include identifying and destroying the aircraft or artillery involved in launching the chemical weapons, or launching an air attack on the Syrian and allied ground forces advancing on opposition-controlled areas, he said.
“So far, Donald Trump has said this cannot be ignored by the civilized world, but has done nothing,” Serwer said, adding that “Trump’s failure to act is a green light for Assad to do as he likes.”

Cruise missiles


Another option is the launch of cruise missiles from US destroyers deployed in the Mediterranean.
Syria attack survivor's plea to Trump

Syria attack survivor’s plea to Trump 01:46
Back in August 2013, Obama considered deploying cruise missiles against command and control targets in Syria, as well as chemical weapon launchers, US officials told CNN at the time. Shortly after, however,
Syria agreed to a Russian proposal to relinquish its chemical weapons, leading Obama to retreat from threats of military action.
Two years earlier, US and allied forces had carried out missile strikes against Libyan air defense and other military targets in an intervention that aided Libyan rebels as they fought the forces of strongman leader Moammar Gadhafi.
Both Russia and the US have previously used cruise missiles to strike inside Syria, said Bronk, but they are less useful for hitting moving targets and carry a greater risk that they will go astray and kill civilians.
“Particularly with the recent collateral damage-heavy attacks that the US has conducted in Iraq and Syria, that’s already a very sensitive topic,” he said. “Whether the Trump administration particularly worries about that or wants to take a harder approach to how many civilian casualties are justified … is open to question.”

‘No-fly’ zone.

Modern Panstri-S1 anti-aircraft battery at Russia's new base in Palmyra.

There could be talk of the US imposing “no-fly” zones on the Syrian air forces, said Bronk, but this would again largely depend on whether the Russians want to play ball.
The Russian air forces in Syria fly a lot of the same aircraft as their Syrian counterparts, he said, which makes identifying who is in the air very difficult even with advanced radar.
“A no-fly zone would either mean the Russians in effect agreeing to constrain and turn on their own ally or the United States accepting that it’s basically unenforceable — unless they are willing to risk shooting down Russian aircraft, of course, which again seems unlikely.”

Safe zones


The US could go forward with a plan to declare and defend safe areas, said Serwer, of Johns Hopkins University.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said last month that the administration backs the idea of creating “interim zones of stability” within Syria where refugees could go. But he didn’t offer any detail on a plan that would require defending those zones, and therefore heighten the risk of military clashes with Russia.
The Obama administration had hesitated to establish “safe zones” because of the military commitment required to defend such areas from Syrian government forces and the possibility of a run-in with Russian forces.
Safe zones also would not have a great punitive effect on Syria and would be expensive and difficult to enforce, said Bronk.
Tillerson is due to meet with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, next week in Moscow for talks likely to be dominated by Syria.
Sen. Gary Peters, a Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, told CNN that it is “time to take a very strong stand against Assad” and that the Syrian President “simply cannot stay there.” After Assad is pushed out, through pressure from the international community, the provision of safe zones would give the Syrian people some security and stability, he said.

Ground forces


US Special Operations Forces, Marines and Army Rangers are on the ground in Syria, US officials told CNN last month. US forces are supporting local fighters as they prepare to launch an assault on Raqqa, the self-declared capital of ISIS in northern Syria.
However, it is “extremely unlikely” that there would be any kind of large scale US boots-on-the-ground operation as seen in Iraq in 2003, said Bronk, “because I think even the Trump administration would be able to see that that would lead to an endless quagmire, not to mention (the US) would be invading areas where Russian forces hold ground.”
He added, “Russia has sent a lot of signals on the military-to-military level that it really isn’t messing around in Syria.”
Republican Sen. Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told CNN that “obviously the United States doesn’t want to get sucked into some long ground war, but there are ways that we can send signals to Assad and I’m sure those plans are being developed.”