US strikes destroyed Syrian means to deliver chemical weapons – admiral

COLOGNE, Germany (Reuters) – US Navy Admiral Michelle Howard said yesterday US cruise missile strikes on an air base in Syria had destroyed the means to deliver chemical weapons from that base, and the US military remained ready to carry out further strikes if needed.

Howard, the four-star officer who leads US Naval Forces in Europe and Africa, told Reuters the United States had decided to launch the strikes after the United Nations failed to pass a resolution condemning a deadly chemical weapons attack that killed scores of people in rebel-held Khan Sheikhoun.

Michelle Howard

Washington has blamed the Syrian government for the attack on Tuesday. The Syrian government has strongly denied responsibility and blamed the deaths on leaks from a rebel chemical arms store it says was hit by a Syrian air strike.

“We conducted strikes against an air field which was the means by which the chemicals were launched into the air. Those means don’t exist now,” Howard said in an interview during a missile defence event in Cologne.

“We saw the misuse of chemical weapons and said, ‘OK, we need to send a very clear message’”.

Asked about the US military’s plan for how to deal with any potential further attacks, Howard said the military was ready to respond if other civilian options failed.

“As the civilian leadership works through what their options are, if other options don’t pan out, then it’s generally the military that gets asked to do something.”

Howard declined to give any details about the flight path of the missiles, or the US military assessment of the damage caused, but said she was confident the strikes had hit their intended target.

“The intention was to take out the airfield and to remove the means of the delivery of chemical weapons. I feel that was accomplished,” she said.

The cruise missiles were launched by two ships in the European region, the USS Porter and the USS Ross, in close coordination with US Central Command, which is responsible for the Middle East.

Howard lauded the quick action taken by the commanders and crews of the two ships in response to the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime.

Howard said the integration of the strikes was “flawless” and showed the ability of the US Navy to project power around the world.

… Governor confirms air base operating again

BEIRUT (Reuters) – A Syrian air base targeted in a US cruise missile attack is operating again, the governor of Syria’s Homs province confirmed yesterday.

The United States launched the missile strikes on Friday in response to a chemical attack that killed 90 people including 30 children. It says the Syrian government launched the attack from the Shayrat air base. Damascus has strongly denied carrying out the attack and says it does not use chemical weapons.

The Syrian army said on Friday the attack had caused extensive damage to the base, which the United States says it targeted with 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles.

“The airport is operating as a first phase,” Homs governor Talal Barazi told Reuters. “Planes have taken off from it,” he added, without saying when.

Asked if it was true that Syrian planes were now taking off from Shayrat or that the air base is operating, a Pentagon spokesman referred questions to the Syrian government.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based organisation that reports on the war, said warplanes had taken off from the base on Friday and carried out air strikes on rebel-held areas in the eastern Homs countryside.

An activist with an opposition air raid warning service said however that the first flight from the base was yesterday morning.

US President Donald Trump suggested on Twitter that the runway itself had not been the target of the missile strikes.

“The reason you don’t generally hit runways is that they are easy and inexpensive to quickly fix (fill in and top)!”, he said.

A senior military source in the alliance fighting in support of President Bashar al-Assad said the airbase had been mostly evacuated thanks to a warning from Russia, which has deployed its military to Syria in support of Assad.

The senior military source, a non-Syrian, said only a few out-of-service jets were destroyed.

The United States warned Russia ahead of the attack.

Assad is also backed in the war by Iran and the Lebanese group Hezbollah, and other Iranian-backed groups.

The Pentagon said the missiles targeted aircraft, hardened aircraft shelters, petroleum and logistical storage areas, ammunition supply bunkers, air defense systems, and radars.

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