Satellite images distributed late Saturday by an Israeli imaging company displayed the destruction to a Syrian research facility targeted by the United States, Britain, and France over the weekend.
Allied missiles struck at the heart of a Syrian chemical weapons arsenal in a show of force and resolve punishing the Assad government for a suspected poison gas attack against civilians.
The targets included the Barzeh chemical weapons research and development site in the Damascus area, said by the US to have been a center of Syrian research, development, production and testing of chemical and biological warfare technology.
Photos analyzed by ImageSat International show three buildings at the heart of the facility completely flattened.
The Israeli company said the structures were the three “main buildings” of the site, based on intelligence analysis.
Before a planned Pentagon briefing Saturday, officials said Air Force B-1B strategic bombers launched JASSM “standoff” missiles for the first time in combat, evading Syrian air defenses. In all, the Navy launched a little more than 100 Tomahawk cruise missiles from destroyers in the Mediterranean Sea.
“A perfectly executed strike,” US President Donald Trump tweeted Saturday in the aftermath of his second decision in two years to fire missiles against Syria. “Could not have had a better result. Mission Accomplished!”
At a Pentagon news conference alongside Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, and with British and French military officers beside them to emphasize allied unity, Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the attacks targeted mainly three targets in western Syria.
Dunford said missiles first struck the Barzeh research facility. The second target was a chemical weapons storage facility west of Homs. He said this was believed to be the main site of Syrian sarin and precursor chemical production equipment.
The third target was a chemical weapons equipment storage facility and an important command post, also west of Homs, Dunford said.
The attack was aimed at deterring the possible future use of such weapons although the Pentagon admitted on Saturday that the Syrian regime retains chemical weapons capability after the US-led campaign.
Syria’s chief allies, Russia and Iran, called the use of force by the United States, Britain and France a “military crime” and “act of aggression” with the potential to worsen a humanitarian crisis after years of civil war.
“Good souls will not be humiliated,” Syrian President Bashar Assad tweeted, while hundreds of Syrians gathered in Damascus, the capital, where they flashed victory signs and waved flags in scenes of defiance after the one-hour barrage launched Friday evening (early Saturday in Syria).
— ImageSat Intl. (@ImageSatIntl) April 14, 2018
A global chemical warfare watchdog group said its fact-finding mission would go as planned in Douma, where the apparent use of poison gas against civilians on April 7 that killed more than 40 people compelled the Western allies to launch their attack. Syria has denied the accusation.
But France’s foreign minister said there was “no doubt” the Assad government was responsible, and threatened further retaliatory strikes if chemical weapons were used again, as did US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who said the assault was a “one-time shot,” as long as chemical weapons weren’t used again.
Pentagon officials said the attacks, carried out by manned aircraft and ships that launched cruise missiles from the Mediterranean Sea, targeted the heart of Assad’s programs to develop and produce chemical weapons. Russia’s military said Syrian air defense units downed 71 out of 103 cruise missiles fired by the allies.
Mattis said Friday there were no reports of US losses in what he described as a heavy but carefully limited assault.
Trump said the US was prepared to sustain economic, diplomatic and military pressure on Assad until he ends what Trump called a criminal pattern of killing his own people with internationally banned chemical weapons. That did not mean military strikes would continue; in fact, Dunford said no additional attacks were currently planned.
Russian leader Vladimir Putin reaffirmed the Kremlin’s skepticism about the allies’ Douma claim, saying Russian military experts had found no trace of the attack. He criticized the US and its allies for launching the strike without waiting for international inspectors to visit the area.
But British Prime Minister Theresa May cited reports she said indicated the Syrian government used a barrel bomb — large containers packed with fuel, explosives and scraps of metal — to deliver the chemicals. “No other group” could have carried out that attack, she said, adding that the allies’ use of force was “right and legal.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the West’s response was “necessary and appropriate.”
Mattis disclosed that the US had not yet confirmed that the Douma attack — the most recent suspected Syrian chemical weapons attack, on April 7 — included the use of sarin gas. He said at least one chemical was used — chlorine, which also has legitimate industrial uses and had not previously triggered a US military response.
He said the targets selected by US, British and French officials were meant to minimize civilian casualties.
“This is difficult to do in a situation like this,” he said, in light of the volatility of chemical agents.
British leader May said in London that the West had tried “every possible” diplomatic means to stop Assad from using chemical weapons. “But our efforts have been repeatedly thwarted” by Syria and Russia, she said.
“So there is no practicable alternative to the use of force to degrade and deter the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime,” May said. “This is not about intervening in a civil war. It is not about regime change.”
French President Emmanuel Macron said in a statement that a target of the strike was the Syrian government’s “clandestine chemical arsenal.”
The Syrian government has repeatedly denied any use of banned weapons.