Trump defends ‘Mission Accomplished’ claim, after strike on Syria
search
'It's such a great military term, it should be brought back'

Trump defends ‘Mission Accomplished’ claim, after strike on Syria

Despite president’s assertion, US ambassador Haley says ‘work in Syria is not done… the United States is locked and loaded and ready to go’

Firefighrers extinguish smoke that rises from the damage of the Syrian Scientific Research Center which was attacked by US, British, and French military strikes to punish President Bashar Assad for suspected chemical attack against civilians, in Barzeh, near Damascus, Syria, April 14, 2018. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)
Firefighrers extinguish smoke that rises from the damage of the Syrian Scientific Research Center which was attacked by US, British, and French military strikes to punish President Bashar Assad for suspected chemical attack against civilians, in Barzeh, near Damascus, Syria, April 14, 2018. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

WASHINGTON, United States — US President Donald Trump on Sunday defended his use of the phrase, “Mission Accomplished,” to describe a US-led allied missile attack on Syria’s chemical weapons program, saying, “It is such a great military term, it should be brought back.”

In an early-morning tweet, Trump said the strike was “perfectly carried out” and that “the only way the Fake News Media could demean was by my use of the term “Mission Accomplished.” He added that he knew the media would “seize” on the phrase, but said it should be used often.

Trump tweeted “Mission Accomplished” on Saturday after US, French and British warplanes and ships launched more than 100 missiles nearly unopposed by Syrian air defenses. While he declared success, the Pentagon said the pummeling of three chemical-related facilities left enough others intact to enable the Assad government to use banned weapons against civilians if it chooses.

His choice of words recalled a similar claim associated with President George W. Bush, following the US-led invasion of Iraq. Bush addressed sailors aboard a Navy ship in May 2003 alongside a “Mission Accomplished” banner, just weeks before it became apparent that Iraqis had organized an insurgency that tied down US forces for years.

Meanwhile, Trump’s UN ambassador, Nikki Haley, said that the president had made it clear that if Assad used poison gas again, the US was ready to take further action.

“We of course know our work in Syria is not done,” Haley said on “Fox News Sunday.”

“We know that it is now up to (Syrian President) Bashar Assad on whether he is going to use chemical weapons again, and should he use it again, the president has made it very clear that the United States is locked and loaded and ready to go,” she said.

The nighttime Syria assault was carefully limited to minimize civilian casualties and avoid direct conflict with Syria’s key ally, Russia, but confusion arose over the extent to which Washington warned Moscow in advance. The Pentagon said it gave no explicit warning. The US ambassador in Moscow, John Huntsman, said in a video, “Before we took action, the United States communicated with” Russia to “reduce the danger of any Russian or civilian casualties.”

Pentagon chief spokesperson Dana W. White speaks during a media availability at the Pentagon, April 14, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Dana W. White, the chief Pentagon spokeswoman, said that to her knowledge no one in the Defense Department communicated with Moscow in advance, other than the acknowledged use of a military-to-military hotline that has routinely helped minimize the risk of US-Russian collisions or confrontations in Syrian airspace. Officials said this did not include giving Russian advance notice of where or when allied airstrikes would happen.

Russia has military forces, including air defenses, in several areas of Syria to support Assad in his long war against anti-government rebels.

Russia and Iran called the use of force by the United States and its allies a “military crime” and “act of aggression.” The UN Security Council met to debate the strikes, but rejected a Russian resolution calling for condemnation of the “aggression” by the three Western allies.

The guided-missile cruiser USS Monterey (CG 61) fires a Tomahawk land attack missile early April 14, 2018, as part of the military response to Syria’s use of chemical weapons on April 7. (Lt. j.g. Matthew Daniels/US Navy via AP)

Assad denies he has used chemical weapons, and the Trump administration has yet to present hard evidence of what it says precipitated the allied missiles attack: a chlorine gas attack on civilians in Douma on April 7. The US says it suspects that sarin gas also was used.

“Good souls will not be humiliated,” 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 early morning barrage.

The strikes “successfully hit every target,” White told reporters at the Pentagon. The military said there were three targets: the Barzah chemical weapons research and development site in the Damascus area, a chemical weapons storage facility near Homs, and a chemical weapons “bunker” a few miles from the second target.

Although officials said the singular target was Assad’s chemical weapons capability, his air force, including helicopters he allegedly has used to drop chemical weapons on civilians, were spared. In a US military action a year ago, in response to a sarin gas attack, the Pentagon said missiles took out nearly 20 percent of the Syrian air force.

A US Air Force B-1 Bomber separates from the boom pod after receiving fuel from an Air Force KC-135 Stratotanker on April 13, 2018, en route to strike chemical weapons targets in Syria. (Department of Defense via AP)

As of Saturday, neither Syria nor its Russian or Iranian allies had retaliated, Pentagon officials said.

The US-led operation won broad Western support. The NATO alliance gave its full backing; NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said in Brussels that the attack was about ensuring that chemical weapons cannot be used with impunity.

In his televised address from the White House on Friday evening, Trump said the US was prepared to sustain economic, diplomatic and military pressure on Assad until the Syrian leader 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, Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said no additional attacks were planned.

Part of a briefing slide at the Pentagon briefing on April 14, 2018, this image shows a preliminary damage assessment from the Barzah Research and Development Center in Syria that was struck by missiles from the US-led coalition, in response to Syria’s use of chemical weapons on April 7, 2018. (Department of Defense via AP)

Asked about Trump’s “Mission Accomplished” assertion, White said it pointed to the successful targeting of three Syrian chemical weapons sites. What happens next, she said, is up to Assad and to his Russian and Iranian allies.

Marine Lt. Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie, director of the Joint Staff at the Pentagon, said the allied airstrikes “took out the heart” of Assad’s chemical weapons arsenal. He said the missiles hit the “sweet spot,” doing the expected level of damage, while minimizing the unintentional release of toxic fumes that could be harmful to nearby civilians.

When pressed, he acknowledged that some unspecified portion of Assad’s chemical arms infrastructure was not targeted.

“There is still a residual element of the Syrian program that is out there,” McKenzie said, adding, “I’m not going to say they’re going to be unable to continue to conduct a chemical attack in the future. I suspect, however, they’ll think long and hard about it.”

Assad’s Barzah research and development center in Damascus was destroyed, McKenzie said. “It does not exist anymore.”

A Syrian soldier films the damage of the Syrian Scientific Research Center, which was attacked by US, British and French military strikes, in Barzeh, near Damascus, Syria, April 14, 2018. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

A former officer in Syria’s chemical program, Adulsalam Abdulrazek, said Saturday that the joint US, British, and French strikes hit “parts, but not the heart,” of the program. He said the strikes were unlikely to curb the government’s ability to produce or launch new attacks. Speaking from rebel-held northern Syria, Abdulrazek told The Associated Press that there were perhaps 50 warehouses in Syria that stored chemical weapons before the program was dismantled in 2013.

Disputing the Russian military’s contention that Syrian air defense units downed 71 allied missiles, McKenzie said no US or allies missiles were stopped. He said Syria’s air defenses were ineffective and that many of the more than 40 surface-to-air missiles fired by the Syrians were launched after the allied attack was over. He said the US knew of no civilians killed by allied missiles.

McKenzie said 105 US and allied missiles were fired, of which 66 were Tomahawk cruise missiles launched from aboard three US Navy ships and one Navy submarine. US, British, and French attack aircraft, including two US Air Force B-1B strategic bombers, launched stealthy, long-range missiles from outside Syrian airspace, officials said.

A global chemical warfare watchdog group, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, said its fact-finding mission would go as planned in Douma.

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 complete their visit to the area.

But British Prime Minister Theresa May said there was little doubt the Syrian government used a barrel bomb — large containers packed with fuel, explosives and scraps of metal — to deliver the chemicals at Douma. “No other group” could have carried out that attack, May said, adding that the allies’ use of force was “right and legal.”

read more:
comments